According to a famous Gallup poll, 42-47% of Americans believe in young-earth creationism (YEC), which the poll describes as the belief that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so". The results of this annual poll has remained relatively unchanged for over three decades. According to an analysis of this poll by Biologos, the bad news is that Americans are as strongly opposed to animal evolution as they are to human evolution, but the good news is that "nearly half of Evangelicals see science as working in collaboration with religion." The prognosis is that roughly half of American Evangelicals reject the scientific consensus on evolution and exhibit science denialism.
Why are American Evangelicals so opposed to evolution in particular and science in general? The question is difficult to answer. It's possible that people are misinformed and do not understand how evolution works. Evolution denial may be due to the prevalence of Christian Fundamentalism with its firm Biblical Literalism and Biblical Inerrancy that has mislead many Evangelicals into believing a false dilemma between religious faith and science. I don't wish to rehearse the immorality of science denialism here and now, but the benefits of science are everywhere in modern society. (Many excellent books have been published on the phenomena of American Fundamentalism and I defer to George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture and Mark A. Noll's Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.)
The reasons for American Evangelical's disdain for evolution is manifold, however, for those who wrongly believe that Scripture prohibits its acceptance, I've assembled the following reasons why scripture is not opposed to evolution.
The Gallup poll were difficult to believe, so I ran a twitter poll, and the results are consistent with it:
— PostBarthian (@postbarthian) January 25, 2016
Fifteen Reasons Why Evangelicals
May Embrace Evolution
1. Biblical Cosmology is Ancient Near East cosmology and cannot be translated into modern cosmology
The oldest parts of the Biblical Creation Narratives (such as Genesis ch. 2) originate from the Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East (ANE). The signposts of ANE Cosmology such as the "firmament" (and yes, it is a solid barrier) and the "deep" or "depths", appear not only in the pre-history of Genesis (ch. 1-11), but also throughout the Psalms, Job and the rest of the bible (c.f. Exo 20:4; Psa 19:1; Psa 42:7).
The Bible's ANE cosmology demonstrates that it is an ancient document that originated from antiquity, but this ancient cosmology is in complete opposition to how we know the universe is constructed today. It may come as a surprise that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that Genesis contains the scientific naivete of the ancient world in his commentary on Genesis 1:6-10:
"Here we have before us the ancient world picture in all its scientific naïveté. While it would not be advisable to be too mocking and self-assured, in view of the rapid changes in our own knowledge of nature, undoubtedly in this passage the biblical author stands exposed with all the limitations caused by the age in which he lived. The heavens and the seas were not formed in the way he says: we would not escape a very bad conscience if we committed ourselves to any such statement."
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Temptation. London: S. C. M., 1966. 30. Print.
The Ancient Near East (ANE) cosmological model has been deciphered from archaeological discoveries such as the Babylonian Map of the World (depicted in the margin), and the creation and flood myths found inscribed on cuneiform tablets and steles. The most famous examples from the ANE creation myths is the Babylonian Enûma Eliš (Enuma Elish).
Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament has a very helpful chapter, "The Old Testament and Ancient Near East Literature" that contains an excellent summary of the OT's dependency on ANE literature and how this doesn't set aside the OT's inspiration. Peter Enns explains the problem as follows:
". . . what standards can we reasonably expect of the Bible, seeing that it is an ancient Near East document and not a modern one. Are teh early stories in the Old Testament to be judged on the basis of standards of modern historical inquiry and scientific percision, things that ancient peoples were not at all aware? Is it not likely that GOd would have allowed his word to come to the ancient Israelites according to the standards they understood, or are modern standards of truth and error so universal that we should expect premodern cultures to have understood them? The former position is, I feel, better suited for solving the problem. The latter is often an implicit assumption of modern thinkingers, both conservative and liberal Christians, but it is somewhat myopic and should be called into question. What the Bible is must be understood in light of the culture context in which it was given."
Enns, Peter. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 41. Print.
To demonstrate that Genesis is an ANE document, consider how the two Creation narratives in Genesis exhibits striking similarities to the Babylonian Creation Myth (Enuma Elish). The author Genesis utilized this or very similar ANE Creation Myths, and critiqued them and repurposed them in order to reveal what that author wished to communicate through the received text of Genesis as we know it today. Even though the author of Genesis was critical of his sources, his revelation was still in the vehicle of ANE cosmology and his audience were ancient people who only knew ANE cosmology, and none of this revelation contained scientific knowledge. Karl Barth makes the following statement to explain the relationship between these two Creation tales:
"What we read in Gen 1 and 2 are genuine histories of creation. If there is a connexion with the Babylonian myth or its older sources, it is a critical connexion. Everything is so different that the only choice is either to see in the Jewish rendering a complete caricature of the Babylonian, or in the Babylonian a complete caricature of the Jewish, according to the standpoint adopted."
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. 3.1, Sections 40-42: The Doctrine of Creation, Study Edition 13. London: T & T Clark, 2010. . Print.
2. The three-decker cosmology of the Ancient Near East has vanished from the world
The three-tiered universe has vanished from the world. No American Evangelical believes that we could take a space ship to heaven. No one believes that God is literally 'up there' or 'out there' in the sky like was once believed in ANE cosmology. As if God was hiding on the dark side of the moon! Space is an infinite abyss, taking decades for the fastest satellites to reach the Solar Systems's known bounds. American Evangelicals cheered when New Horizons flew by the heart-faced dwarf-planet Pluto, and when the Martian rovers photographed the surface of Mars, and when the collision of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet collided with Jupiter.
In the ANE, people imagined a three-decker cosmos: the Earth was a flat disc encased between a subterranean ocean and a celestial ocean. The subterranean ocean was a chaotic abyss below the surface of the Earth (c.f. "depths" or "deep") from which the fountains of the Earth sprang. The celestial ocean along with the sun, moon and stars were suspended in the sky above the Earth by a solid barrier (c.f. "firmament"). Heaven was identified with the tier above, and Hell with the tier below the disc of the Earth.
Bishop J.A.T. Robinson explains this problem this way:
". . . the whole conception of a God 'out there', which has served us so well since the collapse of the three-decker universe, is itself becoming more of a hindrance than a help. In a previous age there came a moment when the three-decker likewise proved an embarrassment, even as a piece of mental furniture. But in this case there was a considerable interval between the time when it ceased to be taken literally as a model of the universe and the time when it ceased to perform a useful function as a metaphor. "
Bishop John Robinson
Robinson, John A. T. Honest to God. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963. 16. Print.
3. Those who reject evolution today may prove to be modern versions of the people who condemned Galileo.
I've met many American Evangelicals who affirm the Ascension as a literal bodily ascent, but none who believe that Jesus ascended like superman and flew to a particular part of the universe where Heaven is located. These Evangelicals are willing to reject evolution, but none have condemned Galileo. How can this be? Maybe there is cognitive dissonance at play, where Jesus is imagined to travel into the sky until he's out of site, and then something magical happens once he is beyond view in the sky above such that Jesus goes to the Father in a puff of smoke but not to a specific location in the Solar System or somewhere far off in the uncharted Universe? What was the destination of Jesus' ascension? Jesus ascended as the creed says, but not like superhero comic books. Karl Barth provides us with this answer to the Ascension destination dilemma:
"There is no sense in trying to visualize the ascension as a literal event, like going up in a balloon. The achievements of Christian art in this field are amongst its worst perpetrations. But of course this is no reason why they should be used to make the whole things ridiculous. The point of the story is not that when Jesus left His disciples He visibly embarked upon a wonderful journey into space, but that when He left them He entered the side of the created world which was provisionally inaccessible and incomprehensible, that before their eyes He ceased to be[sic] before their eyes. This does not mean, however, that He ceased to be a creature, man."
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Study Edition 16. Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.2 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 17-8. Print. [p453-4]
The problem may be due to unwillingness to admit that the Biblical Cosmology is ANE Cosmology, as if the location of heaven had coordinates in the sky that one could fly to. Or it may be due to those who imagine that Biblical Cosmology is revealing a cosmology that is more advanced that modern cosmology, despite all the textual and archaeological evidence to the contrary. Are we to read Genesis in the same way as SEIT scours the sky for higher intelligence? Those who wish to assert the bible's cosmology against modern cosmology should be reminded that the Church has a track record of getting cosmology dreadfully wrong. And, when we are on the wrong side of cosmology, like in the Galileo affair, it is a huge setback for the Christian Christ. Those who reject evolution today may prove to be modern versions of the people who condemned Galileo.
4. The New Testament also affirms ANE cosmology
The New Testament shares the ANE cosmology of the Old Testament. Rudolf Bultmann summarizes the NT understanding of the world well in his famous introduction of his essay New Testament and Mythology:
"The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three-storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings--the angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment. Even the earth is more than the scene of natural, everyday events, of the trivial and common task. It is the scene of the supernatural activity of God and his angels on the one hand, and of Satan and his demons on the other. These supernatural forces intervene in the course of nature, and in all men think and will and do. Miracles are by no means rare."
Bultmann, Rudolf, Hans Werner Bartsch, and Reginald H. Fuller. Kerygma and Myth; a Theological Debate. "New Testament and Myth." New York: Harper & Row, 1961. 1. Print.
Bultmann is right about NT cosmology. The hallmarks of ANE cosmology are everywhere in the NT. The NT authors speaks often of the "four corners of the earth", or "the ends of the earth", that's consistent with the ANE model of the earth being a flat disk (cf. Mark 13:27; Romans 10:18; and Acts 1:8). They also describes a three storied world (cf. Phil 2:10; Rev 5:3,13). God is located in heaven above, where believers were be "caught up" (cf. 1 thess 4:17; 2 Cor 12:4; Rev 12:5). Hell is in the abyss below the earth. It also speaks of "ascending" or "descending" (cf. 1 Thess 4:16) between the tiers (John 3:13; 6:61f; Eph 4:9f.). Paul speaks of being caught up into heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2). Jesus' ascension is described as ascending like superman, and flying through space to heaven above (Acts 1:2,9-11). The NT, like the OT, does not present a competing cosmology to modern science, and it was right for the NT authors to use it to communicate to their audiences, but it is wrong for people today to use it to oppose modern science.
5. Martin Luther and John Calvin used the Bible to condemn Copernicus and Heliocentricism.
The greatest Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, both condemned Copernicus for teaching that the earth orbits the sun (heliocentricism), and wrongly used the bible to defend the Sun, Moon, and stars orbit the Earth (geocentricism). (Later Protestant Reformers, including Melanchthon, repeated this error too). Eventually, their Protestant successors quietly replaced their Geocentricism with Heliocentricism, and then continued to use the Bible to confront science.
The greated argument for Young-Earth Creationism is Calvin's Doctrine of Creation in his Institutes of the Christian Religion I.xiv. This is the bedrock of Young-Earth Creationism, and contains the most famous and best arguments for six calendar-day Creationism. No matter how convincing Calvin's Doctrine of Creation appears to be, it must not be forgotten that the same John Calvin and Martin Luther also were dreadfully wrong on the structure of the cosmos. Here follows are example quotations from Luther and Calvin to demonstrates this point.
Luther called Copernicus a "fool" and condemned Heliocentricism in his Table Talk. Unfortunately, all the popular English translations of Table Talk admit to deleting Luther's geocentric statements. However, this famous quotation is frequently cited to prove Luther had cosmology wrong, and wrongly used the bible to do so.
"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth."
Luther, Martin. Table Talk. Ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Theodore G. Tappert, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1967. Print. Luther's Works.
Some have said this statement from Table Talk is not reliable because it was recorded by his students over dinner conversations. It's the most famous statement, but not the only example of his believe that the sun, moon, stars, orbited the earth in the dense of fog of the firmament. Here's a quote form his Commentary on Genesis:
"This is indeed is a miraculous work of the divine Majesty that the sun runs its course so accurately and definitively and yet nowhere in the sky departs from the line along which it runs, not even by the breadth of a finger. The wonderful expanse of heavy fog Moses calls the firmament. In this subtle matter the sun and other planets have their course and movement. But who is the Master who can make this soft and tenuous substance so firm and permanent? It is certainly not nature, which cannot do this even in much smaller matters. So it must be the work of Him who spoke to the heavens and this tenuous substance, 'Let there be a firmament!' By this command He renders all things firm, and omnipotently upholds them."
Luther, Martin. Luther's Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958. 16. Print.
Also John Calvin repeats the same error as Luther. (See here or more on John Calvin's rejection of Copernicus and Heliocentricism):
"those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns."
John Calvin, "Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:19-24", Calvini Opera Selecta, Corpus Refomatorum, Vol 49, 677, trans. by Robert White in "Calvin and Copernicus: the Problem Reconsidered", Calvin Theological Journal 15 (1980), p233-243, at 236-237
6. The bible accommodates revelation to the understanding of the primitive man to which it was original revealed in ancient times
And John Calvin agrees as well, that Genesis is astronomically incorrect and that it presupposes ANE cosmology because its intent was to accomodate the Doctrine of Creation to what the common man understood about the ancient world:
"Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend."
Calvin, John. Trans. John King. Calvin's Commentaries. Genesis Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003. 86. Print. [Gen 1:16]
Many today would be benefited by following Calvin's doctrine of accommodation. Sadly, there are times where Calvin regresses to concordant interpretations of Genesis, such as when he attempts to recast the celestrial oceans of ANE cosmology as the clouds of storm systems (and I believe this is more respectible than the vapor canopy myths of Morris and Whitcomb). Genesis assumes the ANE cosmological module, and reveals the Doctrine of Creation through it in a way that ancient people would understand. It does not reveal scientific knowledge of the cosmos. This is reaffirmed by how the three-decker cosmos is related to the three levels of Noah's ark and other temple imagery such as the courts of the temple in Jerusalem.
7. The Bible does not reveal Scientific Knowledge.
The Scientific Method is a recent development of the modern era in comparison to the Bible that originated two millennia ago. It's an anachronism to expect to receive a competing scientific system from the bible that could be used to oppose any current scientific consensus. This means that the bible was written to people who couldn't understand them in paradigms that wouldnt be understood for many millennia. I've mentioned "concordant" interpretations, and by this, I am referring to anyone who wishes to harmonize the cosmology of Genesis 1 and 2 with modern cosmology. Reading the bible as such demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Bible's intention to speak to its intended audience in a way that that audience would understands. It also presents an anti-science propoganda that is maybe pathological detrimental when consistently applied to a modern societies dependent on science and technology for the necessities of life.
"Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has modern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called "concordism," as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details of the text. This represents one attempt to "translate" the culture and text for the modern reader. The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we. If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say."
John H. Walton
Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. 16-17. Print.
p.s. John H. Walton affirms "Biblical Inerrancy" too! And, this same sentiment is expressed in plain terms in Karl Barth's letter to his niece:
"one can as little compare the biblical creation story with a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner — that there can be as little question of harmony between them as of contradiction? The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel — naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus — naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis. The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with that which has become, as it appear to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely either from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding."
Barth, Karl., Geoffrey Bromily (trans.), Karl Barth Letters: 1961-1968, #181 (p. 184)
8. All the early church fathers interpreted Genesis 1-2 allegorically
Has the Church always opposed science? No! Did the great early Church fathers use biblical literalism to oppose the science of their day? No! Basil the Great, Jerome, Irenaeus, and Origen interpreted Genesis allegorically. Augustine wrote a book called "The Literal Meaning of Genesis" that was anything but literal! Here's one example:
Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate . . . that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars—the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. . . . The same style of Scriptural narrative occurs abundantly in the Gospels, as when the devil is said to have placed Jesus on a lofty mountain, that he might show Him from thence all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. How could it literally come to pass, either that Jesus should be led up by the devil into a high mountain, or that the latter should show him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were lyiing beneath his bodily eyes, and adjacent to one mountain), i.e., the kingdoms of the Persians, and Scythians, and Indians?)
Origen, First Principles, Book IV. 16 (Greek)
Origen's quote is not uniquely his own, but is consistent with all the early Church's allegorical and christological method to interpreting the scriptures.
9. Genesis is not eye-witness reporting
This may be a sub-point, but an important one, that Genesis is not an eye-witness report like a police report that contains nothing but brute facts. Scholars say that Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of pre-history, and it is entirely anachronistic to read it as if it were reporting modern scientific data. It's a gross error to read the pre-history of Genesis 1-11 as if it could be reproduced in a science lab. Genesis is heavily laden with symbolic phrases, such as how "Methuselah" means "man of the dart" and how Noah's flood occurred the same year that Methuselah died. To read the pre-history of Genesis 1-11 like an eye-witness report, is to set aside all the symbolic meaning that has been revealed in these Scriptures!
Karl Rahner expresses this very well, especially in the following quote from Homisation:
"Negatively it can probably be said quite simply that the account of creation in all its parts is not an 'eye-witness report' of what happened, by someone who was there, whether it be God or Adam who is thought of as the reporter. Or, to express it in more learned fashion, the account of creation does not depict the event which it reports with the actual observable features of its occurrence. Consequently it is not the report of someone who is describing and is in a position to describe a visible event of an historical kind because he was present and saw how it happened. If that were the case, then the figurative trappings and modes of expression which are present would be meaningless there. Nor would a reader expect them, if the occurrence to be reported had its own actual observable historical and therefore at all times intelligible and communicable features and provided the reporter were present at the event. Nor are the figurative modes of expression simply to explained as didactic devices designed to assist a primitive hearer's comprehension, for even to him much could have been differently said without prejudice to his understanding."
10. A literal reading of Genesis 1-2 makes it impossible to understand
Genesis contains two Creation narratives, and a strictly literal reading of these two accounts makes them impossible to harmonize. The first narrative is Genesis 1:1-2:3 and contains the famous six days of Creation, and the second narrative is considered to be the older account by scholars for the cruder vocabulary and use of the divine name "Yahweh" is Genesis 2:4-25.
The first narrative is more poetic in its presentation and has symbolic redundancies (such as triads), and the second narrative follows are more natural botanical order. The conservative Reformed theologian, Meredith Kline, in his essay, Because It Has Not Rained, explains that a strictly natural read of these accounts according to twenty-four-hour days results in a "ludicrous" interpretation of these two Genesis accounts, and asserts that anyone who entertains such a reading exhibits a "strange blindness".
The results, indeed, approach the ludicrous when it is attempted to synchronize Gen. 2:5 with Genesis 1 interpreted in terms of a week of twenty-four-hour days. On that interpretation, vegetation was created on what we may call "Tuesday". Therefore, the vegetationless situation described in Gen. 2:5 cannot be located later than "Tuesday" morning. Neither can it be located earlier than that for Gen. 2:5 assumes the existence of dry land which does not appear until the "third day". Besides, would it not have been droll to attribute the lack of vegetation to the lack of water either on "Sunday" when the earth itself was quite unfashioned or on "Monday" when there was nothing but water to be seen? Hence the twenty-four-hour day theorist must think of the Almighty as hesitant to put in the plants on "Tuesday" morning because it would not rain until later in the day! (It must of course be supposed that it did rain, or at least that some supply of water was provided, before "Tuesday" was over, for by the end of the day the earth was abounding with that vegetation which according to Gen. 2:5 had hitherto been lacking for want of water.)
How can a serious exegete fail to see that such a reconstruction of a "Tuesday morning" in a literal creation week is completely foreign to the historical perspectives of Gen. 2:5? It is a strange blindness that questions the orthodoxy of all who reject the traditional twenty-four-hour day theory when the truth is that endorsement of that theory is incompatible with belief in the self-consistency of the Scriptures.
Meredith Kline, Because It Has Not Rained
11. What genre is Genesis 1-2? The answer is Saga!
What genre of literature is Genesis 1 & 2? Is it Myth? Legend? Eye-witness report? Objective history? Karl Barth says that the best answer is "saga", because saga makes Genesis make sense in its historical milieu. Saga roots the narrative in historical events, but doesnt not restrict the Scriptures and prevent them from communication more than purely brute facts like a police report. These pre-history Scriptures present history and an interpreation of history, that is commonly described by the two German words for history: historiche and gistechte
Karl Barth defines "saga" as follows:
"I am using saga in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. Legend and anecdote are to be regarded as a degenerate form of saga: legend as the depiction in saga form of a concrete individual personality; and anecdote as the sudden illumination in saga form either of a personality of this kind or of a concretely historical situation. If the concept of myth proves inadequate—as is still to be shown—it is obvious that the only concept to describe the biblical history of creation is that of saga."
Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics Study Edition 21" Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.1 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 81. Print.
12. A century ago, America's greatest theologians embraced evolution including B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge
The late 18th century and early 19th century was a time when science was embraced by the Church and a time when people believed that everything that could be known would be known (another belief that is abandoned today!) This is exemplified by the embracing of evolution by America's greatest late 19th and early 20th century theologians including "the lion of Princeton" B.B. Warfield and "the Guardian of Orthodoxy" Charles Hodge. The foundation of American Evangelicalism today was build on the foundation of these two men's works, which affirmed evolution! So American Evangelicals disdain for evolution and science has only arisen due to controversies in the last hundred or so years after the sunset of these great American Evangelical luminaries!
B.B. Warfield is the father of Biblical Inerrancy: the very doctrine that prohibits many American Evangelicals today from embracing evolution! If Warfield had not written The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, then there may not have been any controversy over Biblical Inerrancy today, because there would be no such thing as "inerrancy." If inerrancy is a road block for any American Evangelical today, then they must be reminded that the founder of this American made pseudo-dilemma, B.B. Warfield, was also the most famous advocate of evolution, over a hundred years before the scientific consensus of evolution was established! Read this quotation by Warfield on Evolution:
"It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin's doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one. The 'indigested mass', including the 'promise and potency' of all that was yet to be, was called into being by the simple fiat of God. But all that has come into being since - except the souls of men alone - has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces. Not these forces apart from God, of course: Calvin is a high theist, that is, supernaturalist, in his ontology of the universe and in his conception of the whole movement of the universe. To him God is the prima causa omnium and that not merely in the sense that all things ultimately - in the world-stuff - owe their existence to God; but in the sense that all the modifications of the world-stuff have taken place under the directly upholding and governing hand of God, and find their account ultimately in His will. But they find their account proximately in 'second causes'; and this is not only evolutionism but pure evolutionism."
B.B. Warfield, "Calvin's Doctrine of Creation"
Mark A. Noll and David Livingstone has compiled all of Warfield's writings on evolution into an indispensable volume: B.B. Warfield: Evolution, Science and Scripture: Selected Writings, which also contains Warfield's essay on Calvin's Doctrine of Creation. And if you think that Warfield is an anomaly, remember that Charles Hodge affirmed evolution as well! Why is this important? It demonstrates that the Reformed Church has been on the right track with its doctrine of providence, and how providence is a foundational basis for the patience process of God by which his "mediate Creation" (as Warfield described it) came into being.
If Warfield is not sufficient proof, then know that the same is true for Charles Hodge, "The Guardian of American Orthodoxy". Hodge said this:
"This of course does not imply that the sacred writers were infallible except for the special purpose for which they were employed. They were not imbued with plenary knowledge. As to matters of science, philosophy, and history, they stood on the same level with their contemporaries. They were infallible only as teachers, and when acting as spokesmen of God. Their inspiration no more made them astronomers than it made them agriculturists. Isaiah was infallible in his predictions, although he shared with his countrymen the views then prevalent as to the mechanism of the universe."
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p165.
13. The Church is not against Evolution: Protestants and Catholics agree!
The Reformed Church is not the only one to embrace the science of evolution. The Catholic Church is famous for condemning Galileo, but she is not against evolution today! The famous provost for the new Atheists and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins in an unusual charming moment, has explained this situation well in a very good book on Evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth (despite some occasional and annoying jibjabs at Christians):
"The Archbishop of Canterbury has no problem with evolution nor does the Pope (give or take the odd wobble over the precise paleontological junction when the human soul was injected), nor do educated priests and professors of theology. . . . Bishops and theologians who have attended to evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. . . . But, grudgingly in some case, happily in others, thoughtful and rational churchmen and women accept the evidence for evolution. What we must not do is complacently assume that, because bishops and educated clergy accept evolution, so do theri congregations. More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we . . . were created within the last 10,000 years."
Dawkins, Richard. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. United Kingdom: Free,, Transworld, 2009. 6. Print.
The Catholic position on evolution is the most intriguing to me, because they are the historical church in the West, and all Protestants have descended from Catholics, so we share the same family tree. The Catholic Church is open to a moderate theory of evolution, according to Karl Rahner, and as defined by Humani Generis. The point of controversy for Catholics is whether the body may have developed according to an evolutionary process and the soul was a uniquely created. In Hominisation, Karl Rahner explores the evolutionary questions, and he also has an amazing essay on Monogenism vs Polygenism in his Theological Investigations, Vol. 1. In this quotation, Rahner answers whehther Catholics may affirm evolutionary science:
"Although a moderate theory of evolution is not objected to by the teaching Church at the present time, it does not follow that the theological question is thereby settled and that the whole matter henceforward is a purely scientific one. The immediate creation of the spiritual soul and the substantial unity of man's nature in body and spirit are, of course, Catholic dogmas. Consequently the Christian can only hold a moderate theory of evolution quatenus nempe de humani corporis origine inquirit (in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body), as Humani Generis says (Denzinger 2327). The term moderate evolution might therefore be applied to a theory which simply inquires into the biological reality of man in accordance with the formal object of the biological sciences as defined by their methods and which affirms a real genetic connection between that human biological reality and the animal kingdom, but which also in accordance with the fundamental methodological principles of those sciences, cannot and does not attempt to assert that it has made a statement adequate to the whole reality of man and to the origin of this whole reality."
Karl Rahner, Homanisation
14. Historical Adam is an Evangelical Controversy, not a Scriptural Fact
The so-called Historical Adam is a controversy of similar proportions to evolution for American Evangelicals. This controversy could be entirely dismantled if we were to admit that "we all are Adam". Whomever Adam was is obscured by the light of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Adam refers to all people, and specifically to Jesus who is the redeemer of all. So all the controversies surrounding the so-called historical Adam may be safely set aside and treated in a similar manner to the question of how many angels may dance on the head of a pin. (Maybe if the theologians of ancient past had avoided such secondary debates when the raiders were coming, then the Hagia Sophia might have never become a mosque or museum.) Karl Barth has provided us great relief to this controversy in his scriptural explanation of the Historical Adam:
The Bible gives to this history and to all men in this sense the general title of Adam. Adam is mentioned relatively seldom both in the Old Testament and the New. There are only two passages which treat of him explicitly: Gen 2-3 and Rom 5:12-21 (to which we might add 1 Cor 15:22,45). The meaning of Adam is simply man, and as the bearer of this name which denotes the being and essence of all other men, Adam appears in the Genesis story as the man who owes his existence directly to the creative will and Word and act of God without any human intervention, the man who is to that extent the first man. . . . It is the name of Adam the transgressor which God gives to world-history as a whole. The name of Adam sums up this history as the history of the mankind which God has given up, given up to its pride on account of its pride. . . . It is continually like it. With innumerable variations it constantly repeats it. It constantly re-enacts the little scene in the garden of Eden. There never was a golden age. There is no point in looking back to one. The first man was immediately the first sinner.
Barth, Karl. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Church Dogmatics: IV.1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Vol. 22. London: T & T Clark, 2009. [507-08]. Print. Study Edition.
For those concerned with whether the scriptures allow for mankind to have originated with a single pair (monogenism) or from a group of hominids (polygenism), I highly recommend as a starting point Karl Rahner's essay on "Theological Reflections on Monogenism" in his Theological Investigations, Vol. 1. (Rahner sided with monogenism in this essay, but it is commonly believed that he embraced polygenism later in life). Peter Enns also has an excellent book, The Evolution of Adam, that is equally helpful (and a bit more accessible than Rahner's essay).
15. Evolution ends the human being's godlike position on the Earth
One last helpful point from Moltmann's Ethics of Hope is how evolution de-god's man. Man is no longer a demiurge over the Earth, he has originated from the earth and his life depends on the earth. This is very similar to the opening of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, when he is debating which comes first, the Knowledge of God or Man, and Calvin makes the excellent observation that after man is blinded by looking up for God, he then looks down at the earth, and this allows him to see himself in relationship to God. So our knowledge of God is incomplete without our realization that he has made us from the dust of the ground. Moltmann makes this point in his recent book, The Ethics of Hope:
“If Darwin is right and human beings and apes have a common ancestry, this means the end of the human being’s godlike position. As the Bible says, he is formed of the earth and can fulfil his specific human tasks only within the community of creation. Since we have come to realize that it is the religious-scientific anthropocentricism of modern times which has brought us to the present ecological crisis of nature and human civilization, we no longer see Darwin’s evolutionary theory as an attack on Christian anthropology, but begin to understand that the human being belongs to the same family as other living things on this fruitful earth. That is ultimately also the substance of the covenant with Noah, with which creation begins afresh after the Flood. It is a covenant ‘with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature’ (Gen. 9.9–10). So all living creatures are God’s covenant partners and our covenant partners too.”
Moltmann, Jürgen. Ethics of Hope. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012. 324. Print
Oh, how many controversies might have been avoided, if the bible had been printed with the New Testament before the Old Testament, and if then the Gospel of John might have been the first book of the New Testament. This would have caused Christians everywhere to read John 1 instead of Genesis 1, and I wonder if this alone would have made the world a different place for American Evangelicals who are opposed to evolution specifically and science in general. On the contrary to those who say that Genesis 1 and 2 is the hinge by which the entire bible swings, I respond that such an attitude makes Genesis 1 and 2 a hingeless door that prevents anyone from proceeding through it and further into the bible!
As a final ecumenical word, if the argument that has been presented here is convincing to you, I encourage you to love our American Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ who do not agree. Raymond E. Brown once gave some excellent advice on how to counteract Christian Fundamentalism, and here is one last quote I leave you with as you go in grace and peace:
"Do not attack fundamentalists as if they were fools or ignorant. Often, biblical literalism is an attitude of self-defensiveness for even extremely intelligent people who have been trapped. They want to preserve their faith in God, and this seems to them the only way. They will understand your attacks on them as an attack on their faith. There can be fundamentalists very well-informed in biblical archaeology and languages. They will have developed apologetic arguments against any nonliteral positions. For example, if one is against evolution, one can argue that God created the world with fossils already in it and, therefore, that the fossil proof for evolution can be dismissed!"
Raymond E. Brown
Brown, Raymond E. 101 Questions and Answers on the Bible. New York: Paulist, 1990. 46-48. Print.
(Note: All images in this post are either from Wikipedia, or from my personal collection.)
Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann did not get along. A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, they were once friends, but as each developed their own theological program, their alliance deteriorated into an operatic tragedy. In the Christmas season of 1952, Barth and Bultmann exchanged a famous set of letters where Barth declared that their differences were as irreconcilable as a "whale . . . and an elephant meeting with boundless astonishment on some oceanic shore." This 1952 Christmas Correspondence between Barth and Bultmann has been studied at length by many theologians, especially those who wish to defend Barth's criticisms of Bultmann or to reconcile their theologies. The following is an exploration of this operatic, tragic tale of The Whale and the Elephant.
The 1952 Christmas Correspondence: An Introduction
Kerygma and Myth II was a book in a series that contained essays by Rudolf Bultmann with critical responses from famous theologians (see here for more info), including Karl Barth's famous essay Rudolf Bultmann: An Attempt to Understand Him (mirror). This essay initiated a series of letters between Bultmann and Barth that I've dubbed The 1952 Christmas Correspondence. Bultmann responded to Barth's essay in an almost twenty page personal letter that I'll call his November letter, in which Karl Barth responded with his Christmas Eve letter that contains the famous Tale of the Whale and the Elephant: These two complete letters are contained in Karl Barth - Rudolf Bultmann: Letters 1922 - 1962. I recommend reading the entire correspondence beginning with Barth's essay and ending with his Christmas Eve letter to obtain a fuller picture of the selections quoted here.
The Tale of the Whale and the Elephant
Here is the quotation from Karl Barth's 1952 Christmas Eve letter containing The Tale of the Whale and the Elephant. (I've placed the key sentences in bold.)
Basel, 24 December 1952
Dear Mr. Bultmann,
. . . I am constantly listening to you in my ongoing work as you try to stop me doing the things that I then obstinately do all the same. I, too, am a Don Juan who certainly hears the powerful bass of Komtur, but does not repent as demanded.
Is it clear to you how things are with us—you and me? It seems to me that we are like a whale (do you know Melville's remarkable book Moby Dick? You ought to have a high regard for it because of its animal mythology!) and an elephant meeting with boundless astonishment on some oceanic shore. It is all for nothing that the one sends his spout of water high in the air. It is is all for nothing that the other moves its trunk now in friendship and now in threat. They do not have a common key to what each would obviously like to say to the other in its own speech and in terms of its own element. A riddle of creation whose solution in the eschaton I like to depict as Bonhoeffer does by pointing toward the "I restore all things" of the Christmas hymn. . . .
Karl BarthBarth, Karl, and Rudolf Bultmann. Karl Barth - Rudolf Bultmann Letters, 1922-1966. Ed. Bernd Jaspert and G. W. Bromiley. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981. 105. Print.
An Animal Mythology: Willie the Operatic Whale
Barth's reference to "animal mythology" and Moby Dick reminded me of the old Disney cartoon The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met (1946) that is significantly similar to The Tale of the Whale and the Elephant. Willie the Operatic Whale is a mysterious whale that wanders through the sea singing to all who will hear him. He is able to simultaneously sing with three different operatic voices simultaneously due to a mutation and performs many opera selections throughout the cartoon. The cartoon contains a dream sequence showing Willie's renown fame and success after his discovery, with an iconic scene with Willie in a costume singing as he towers over a full house at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
In hopes of being discovered, Willie approaches a whaling ship and sings a selection from Figaro. The sailors attempt to harpoon Willie, but are quickly wooed by his singing, but sadly the captain of the vessel is not deterred (like Ahab) and harpoons Willie. In the end, Willie goes to the special part of heaven for creatures of the deep where his operatic skills are finally appreciated. The cartoon oddly concludes that it was for the best that Willie was harpooned, because there was no way he would have ever sung at the Met, and only now, in the dreamy glow of heaven far away, Willie may at last be "understood".
Listen to Willie sing Figaro (or watch the entire 15min cartoon):
Whale or Elephant: A Short Excursus on Who's Who
Is Barth the Elephant or the Whale? This is a hotly debated question! I've depicted Barth as the elephant in the header image but my recent twitter poll results indicated that opposite: Barth is the whale and Bultmann is the elephant. The whale is an impressive megafauna, this a mammal that once walked on land but later returned to the sea. The elephant is the greatest land animal and is one of few animals to exhibit mirror recognition. So there is no advantage to being the whale or elephant.
The English translation of Barth's Christmas Eve letter favors identifying Barth with the whale, especially since his Church Dogmatics have been called a 'Moby Dick' for its great length. So who is who? They are both the whale and are both the elephant. This will be made clear by the way both Barth and Bultmann refer to themselves as Don Juan.
Karl "Don Juan" Barth
In the Christmas Eve letter, Barth refers to himself as "Don Juan" which is the Spanish version of the famous opera Don Giovanni by Mozart. Barth loved Mozart and frequently referenced him in his writings, and also wrote a book titled Wolfgag Amadeus Mozart. In the opera, Don Juan receives a dinner invitation to the netherworld by the powerful bass of the undead "Komthur" (a.k.a "Commentadore" who coincidentally resembles a white whale), but Don Juan strongly resists. The Komthur compels Don Juan to attend, and finally tells Don Juan his time is up, and then Don Juan is dragged off into the realm of fiery devils. This scene is figurative of Barth's relationship to Bultmann in this correspondence.
(Don Juan is a legendary womanizer that frequently appears in popular culture and movies as a sex symbol similar to Casanova. Barth does not identify himself as Don Juan because he believes he is a sex symbol(!). He does so because this finale scene Don Juan's encounter with from the famous finale of the opera Don Giovanni.)
Watch this video from the finale of Don Giovanni and imagine Karl Barth as Don Juan under the inquisition of Rudolf Bultmann as the Komthur. Imagine Barth resisting Bultmann like Don Juan resists the commands of the undead Komthur.
Rudolf "Don Juan" Bultmann
Bultmann was the first to identify as "Don Juan" in his 1952 November letter to Barth as a way of responding to the inquisition of Barth's essay: Rudolf Bultmann: An Attempt to Understand Him. Bultmann believed he had already answered Barth's essay in Kerygma and Myth II with his own contribution to that same book: The Case for Demythologizing: A Reply (mirror). It may have been this point that prompted Barth to respond in the strong protest that Bultmann feared,"Ah, your time is up!", in Barth's response of The Tale of the Whale and the Elephant.
At first I was tempted to cap your quotation from Figaro with one from the end of Don Giovanni: Komthur [K.B.]: "Pentiti!" (Repent / Confess) Don Giovanni [R.B.]: "No!" But I resisted this so as not to lead you into the temptation of answering me as Komthur (Commendatore): "Ah! tempo più non v'è!" (tr. Ah, your time is up!) I thus decided to reply to you directly, though with some doubt whether I would succeed in making myself understood, since I believe that the answers to your questions are basically already given in my contribution to Kerygma and Myth II.
Mozart's Figaro: An Understanding Between the Whale and Elephant
Bultmann's letter references Figaro, and this back story reveals an unrealized hope that Barth and Bultmann may have worked out their differences and become friends once again. In the second finale of Figaro, it is revealed that the beloved mistress is the wife in disguise. "Oh Angel, pardon me" is the reply to this deception, and Barth quotes it to suggest that their disagreements could have been resolved, but sadly no such reconciliation occurred between them.
Watch the following scene from Figaro and imagine Barth saying "Angel, pardon me" after the mistress (imagine as Bultmann) reveals she has been his wife all along:
Whether Barth and Bultmann may be reconciled or not is a larger question than may be answered at this time. What may be said is that Barth did not believe his theology may be reconciled with Bultmann's. Bultmann believed he had answered Barth's criticisms and the Tale of the Whale and the Elephant may turn out to be an animal mythology. However, Barth emphatically disagreed with Bultmann, and remained adamant about it until the end. To reconcile Barth and Bultmann, one of these two famous theologians are required to change. Barth has been said to be inconsistent, but Barth did not believe that he was. The long back story reveals that they were well acquainted with each other's theologies, and although reconciliation might have been achieved by some changes by both sides, but the "Oh Angel, pardon me!" was never sung. This is The Tale of the Whale and the Elephant.
- Header Source is a composite of these images:
- "Karl Barth Letters 1961-1968" by CHRIS DRUMM - https://secure.flickr.com/photos/cdrummbks/3548684024/in/photolist-5aUv4W-bDEbwt-phdnir-pysaNv-4PVTQW-6pzW8j-nxDMa8-okihxY-dvjuvA-bqKg11-bqKfWm-bqKfTU-bqKfS1-bDEb7B. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.
- "Rudolf Bultmann Portrait" by Jü - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
- "Humpback stellwagen edit" by Whit Welles Wwelles14 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.
- "African Bush Elephant" by Muhammad Mahdi Karim FacebookThe making of this document was supported by Wikimedia CH. (Submit your project!)For all the files concerned, please see the category Supported by Wikimedia CH. - Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Commons.
Is God's existence only a projection of man's wishes that corresponds to no object in reality? Ludwig Feuerbach thinks so, and it is the basis of his atheism. Feuerbach is famous for his belief that theology is reducible to anthropology, such that man's religious beliefs are projections of his wishes so that man has made God in man's own image. Hans Küng believes that this argument for atheism by Feuerbach is a logical fallacy.
In his book Eternal Life?: Life after Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem, Küng says that an object's existence in reality is independent of man's wishes for that object's existence. This means that it is wrong to reject God's existence solely because man's wishes for God to exist. The opposite is also true that an object's existence in reality may not be rejected because man wishes for its existence. This argument turns against an atheist, because an atheist's rejection of God becomes another form of wish fulfillment because an object's existence is not determined by a man's disbelief in that object, or for believing the opposite of the common belief of mankind.
Küng admits that there may not be an object in reality that corresponds to man's religious wishes, but man's wishes alone may not be the basis for proving that's object's existence, nor may his wishes be used to dismiss that object's existence. However, if an object does exist in reality, there's a real possibility that object's existence has somehow influenced man's believe in said object.
Does this mean however that a psychological explanation of this kind is all that is to be said about the very complex problem of the "hereafter" or "eternal life"? Does recognition of the fact that psychological (or other) factors play a significant part in belief in an eternal life ipso facto exclude the possibility that these factors may be oriented to a real object, to a reality independent of our consciousness? Certainly the fact cannot be positively excluded (and this must be said for Feuerbach against all too hastily "transcendentally" deducing theologians) that perhaps in reality there is no object corresponding to man's different needs, wishes, instincts, including his striving for happiness (in Scholastic theology known as the desiderium naturale beatitudinis), and that in death I am absorbed into the eternal repose of nothingness. Who knows anything definite in this respect? But neither can the possibility be a priori excluded (and this must be pointed out against a self-confident atheism) that in fact there is something real (however it is defined) corresponding to all these needs, wishes, instincts and also to the striving for happiness, and that I shall be elevated into an absolutely final reality. Who could a prior maintain the opposite?
To be more precise, could not the sense of dependence and the instinct of self-preservation have a very real ground, could could not our striving for happiness have a very real goal? And if—in my belief in eternal life, as in all knowing—I put, project into the object is purely the product of my imagination? A projection and no more than that? Could not perhaps some kind of transcendent object, some kind of hidden reality of God—however this may be defined—correspond to all the wishing, thinking and imagining involved in our belief?
"If the gods are products of wishful thinking, it does not follow that they are merely such: we cannot conclude from this either to their existence or to their nonexistence," explains the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann: "It is quite true that nothing exists merely because we wish it, but it is not true that something cannot exist if we wish it. Feuerbach's whole critique of religion and the whole proof of his atheism, however, rest on the single argument; that is, on a logical fallacy." This is more than an argument in formal logic. For I can also deduce psychologically my experience in the world, but this implies nothing against the existence of a world independent of me, as the reference point of my experiences; it provides no reasons for solipsism. And I can deduce psychologically my experience of God, but this implies nothing against the existence of a divine reality independent of me, as the reference point of all my needs and wishes; it is not a proof of atheism. In a word, something real can certainly correspond in reality to my psychological experience; a real God and a real eternal life—appearance and being—can certainly correspond to the wish for God and an eternal life. The conclusion is inescapable that, from this psychological viewpoint, Feuerbach's denial of eternal life remains a postulate. His atheism too is not above suspicion of being a projection.
Küng, Hans. Eternal Life?: Life after Death as a Medical, Philosophical, and Theological Problem. Trans. Edward Quinn. Garden City: Image, 1985. 30-31. Print.
Karl Barth was on the cover of Time Magazine on April 20th, 1962 and the magazine included a five page cover story. It's rare that theologians are on the cover of time magazine or any magazine, especially today. The photos displayed are of an original copy of this magazine that I recently acquired. It's quite a relic! Click on the images to see a higher resolution photo and to read the story.
It's Christmas season, and it is a great time to give the gift of Karl Barth! Here are my recommendations for which Barth books to buy for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. I've recommended below two editions of The Church Dogmatics and my top ten books by Karl Barth that are light and easy to read, and finally a list of thirty other books by Karl Barth that all would make excellent gifts!
The Church Dogmatics
The Church Dogmatics is Barth's magnum opus and it is his most important and famous work, and after 8,000 pages spanning 13 volumes, this behemoth is an unfinished masterpiece that is where Barth is at his best. There are two english translations that I recommend to anyone who wants to dive into The Church Dogmatics:
The first is Hendrickson's reprint of The Church Dogmatics, 14 Vols because it is a durable hardcover set that includes an index volume and the set is the most affordable (~$100-175); but the downside of this set is that the text does not include the translations of the latin and greek quotations.
The second edition I recommend is T&T Clark's The Church Dogmatics: Study Edition (31 Vols). This paperback set divides the Church Dogmatics into 30 volumes and also includes a large index as well. The smaller volumes makes them much more portable and the print is easier to read than the Hendrickson's edition. The study edition contains the english translations of all the original languages as footnotes on the pages, and also includes bracketed page numbers for easy referencing the original page enumerations. The negative points are that this edition is out of print and extremely expensive ($350-1000) and it does not include the prefaces or editor comments! Fortunately, bloomsbury has made them available as PDFs. This is the set that I personally own.
It's now possible to buy individual volumes as well, to help you try before you buy. I often recommend purchasing The Church Dogmatics: Study Edition Vol 1.1 Sections 1-7 for new readers who are ready to jump into The Church Dogmatics.
Easy-to-Read books by Karl Barth
Karl Barth published many other books besides The Church Dogmatics, and the sum total pages of these books is as massive as the Church Dogmatics as well! The length and depth of the Church Dogmatics prevents some readers from enjoying Karl Barth (including myself when I haven't had my coffee!). I've selected ten books by Karl Barth that are great gifts to give to anyone who may want a lighter book by Karl Barth.
- Evangelical Theology: This book contains Barth's lectures during his visit to the United States. This tour was the first time many americans had heard Barth, and the lectures contain an easy to follow summary of Barth's mature theology. Many people have recommended it as the best place to read barth for the first time.
- Faith for the Church: A Commentary on the Apostles' Creed According to Calvin's Catechism: This short book is Barth's commentary on Calvin's confession, making it a great book for Calvinists to read and for anyone wanting a concise summary of Barth's theology.
- Deliverance to the Captives: At the end of Barth's life, he preached sermons to the prisoners in Basel. These sermons are very easy to follow and are often expositions of a single verse. This is one of my favorite books to read, especially because Barth is able to unpack his revolutionary theology into sermons that illiterate men and women could easily understand.
- Call for God: This is another volume of sermons by Barth to the Basel prisoners. Many people claim these two books demonstrate how Barth's Dogmatics may be preached.
- Karl Barth Letters 1961-1968: This book is a compilation of Barth's personal letters during the last years of his life (b. 1886 d.1968). The letters are easy to understand and contain many eye opening comments, that are invaluable insights into Barth's positions, conflicts and controversies.
- Christ and Adam: Romans 5: This short commentary on Romans 5 contains Barth's views on Adam. Barth affirms Evolution, so this book is interesting to anyone who likes the Historical Adam debates or wants a short introduction to Barth's anthropology.
- Natural Theology: Comprising Nature and Grace by Professor Dr. Emil Brunner and the reply No! by Dr. Karl Barth: Barth and Brunner's feud over Natural Theology is contained in this very short book. It contains Emil Brunner's position and Karl Barth's Nein in response.
- Dogmatics in Outline: This short book is also commonly recommended as an introduction to Karl Barth, because it is easy to read and summarizes the Church Dogmatics.
- God Here and Now: This is a short book on Ethics. Barth has other books on Ethics and large ethical sections in The Church Dogmatics Vol. III/4 and II/2, but this book is much more accessible and easy to read.
- Credo: Karl Barth's commentary on the Creed is in this book, and gives some surprising conclusions about each statement of the Creed. This book was published as Barth was beginning the Church Dogmatics, so it does not necessary represent his final positions on each of the articles of the Creed.
Thirty Additional Books by Karl Barth for Collectors
I considered adding many of the following books into my top ten, especially Barth's Table Talk, because most of them are very accessible to most readers. However many of these book are also from Barth's earlier carrier, published before The Church Dogmatics, and do not represent Barth's mature thought. They are all books I recommend, especially since there are many used copies that may be found for pennies.
- Table Talk
- Word of God and Word of Man
- Community, Church and State
- Insights: Karl Barth's Reflections on the Life of Faith
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Anselm's Proof of the Existence of God in the Context of His Theological Scheme
- Resurrection of the Dead: Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15
- Church's Teaching on Baptism
- Epistle to the Philippians
- The Word In This World: Two Sermons
- Final Testimonies
- Fragments Grave and Gray
- Theology of Schleiermacher
- Karl Barth - Rudolf Bultmann Letters 1922-1966
- Protestant Theology in the 19th Century
- The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion
- Theology of John Calvin
- God In Action
- The Epistle to the Romans
- Church Dogmatics: Vol IV/4 The Christian Life Lecture Fragments
- Come Holy Spirit: Sermons
- Call to Discipleship (Facets)
- Fifty Prayers
- The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life: The Theological Basis of Ethics
- The Church and Churches
- A Late Friendship: The Letters of Karl Barth and Carl Zuckmayer
- Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925
- The Great Promise (*updated*)
- The Humanity of God (*updated*)
- Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (*updated*)
Be a good friend and give the gift of Karl Barth his holiday season! Is there a better way to show someone that you love them?
It's been a great year and there are more postbarthian than ever before! Here are the top ten posts from 2015 chosen from a sample of 100,000 postbarthian visitors. This years list is dominated by Karl Barth, unlike the eclectic list from 2014's top posts. The following list is ordered in popularity. The first two posts were twice as popular than any other post of the year.
Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology (Series: Cascade Companions) by David W. Congdon is a concise introduction to the person and work of Rudolf Bultmann. It summarizes the loci of Bultmann's theological program in less than 2o0 pages, making it a valuable resource on Bultmann by a scholar who is sympathetic with Bultmann's work. Rudolf Bultmann was published six months after Congdon's big book on Bultmann, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology, which I previously reviewed here: Barth vs Bultmann: The Myth of the Whale and the Elephant. Congdon's Rudolf Bultmann complements The Mission of Demythologizing by repeating many of its themes and supplementing it with material not covered in it, making this book accessible to readers otherwise intimidated by a 1,000 page tome.
Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology contains an introduction and ten chapters highlighting one aspect of Bultmann's theology respectively: 1) Eschatology, 2) Dialectic, 3) Nonobjectifiability, 4) Self-Understanding, 5) Kerygma, 6) History, 7) Myth, 8) Hermeneutics, 9) Freedom, and 10) Advent. Each chapter ends with a set of questions, making it a great book for group discussion, and the book concludes with a list of recommended books on Bultmann, such as the one I am currently reading: Karl Barth - Rudolf Bultmann Letters, 1922-1966.
The strength of Congdon's books, such as Rudolf Bultmann, is his ability to "demythologize" Bultmann and "translate" his work to evangelicals who are openly hostile to Bultmann, by presenting Bultmann and his work in a way that Bultmann would have approved. I've read a substantial amount of Bultmann, but my reading of him has been marred from a hyper-critical posture that I inherited from the nearly universal hostility towards Bultmann by evangelical scholarship, such as George Eldon Ladd's Rudolf Bultmann to Karl Barth's Letters: 1961-1968 (including Barth's pejorative phrases such as "Bultmannitis"), and recently by N.T. Wright (as I've discussed in a recent post).
Congdon (and Bultmann too) were fully aware of the unfair criticism towards Bultmann, and he discusses it in this quotation from the preface of Rudolf Bultmann:
Bultmann wrote: "It is incredible how many people pass judgment on my work without ever having read a word of it. . . . I have sometimes asked the grounds for a writer's verdict, and which of my writings he has read. The answer has regularly been, without exception, that he has not read any of my writings; but he has learnt from a Sunday paper or a parish magazine that I am a heretic."
If reading the present work induces anyone to pass judgment upon Bultmann without actually reading him, this work has failed. If a reader is to take only one thing away from this book, I hope it will be a sense that Bultmann's theology is complex and significant enough to demand a thorough engagement. Many people will, of course, still find Bultmann's theology problematic, no matter how well it is explained.
Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015. xvii. Print. Cascade Companions.
Only after I had read Congdon's books on Bultmann, was I able to re-evaluate Bultmann in a more positive light. However, in full disclosure, I'm still not a Bultmanniac like Congdon mentions in the last sentence of the quote, but I am less critical than I once was and in many ways I am now appreciative of Bultmann due to Congdon's publications and correspondence and have a renewed zeal to read and learn about Bultmann. I still disagree with Bultmann, but for different reasons than I once did that I may expound another time. I believe any reader will walk away with a similar change in perspective on Bultmann from this book.
Rudolf Bultmann's Eschatology
David Congdon's chapter on Bultmann's Eschatology is what made me want to read this book, and I will review briefly as a taste of this book's overall experience. Congdon described Bultmann's position as one of "realized eschatology" in contradistinction to the "imminent, future eschatology" of his most respected opponents as well as the "inaugurated eschatology" (already/not-yet) of modern conservative opponents as exemplified in the quotation:
Following the rediscovery of eschatology, scholars split into two camps: those who advocated a present, realized eschatology (Bultmann, Dodd), and those who retained in some form the imminent, future eschatology of the early church (Käsemann, Pannenberg, Moltmann). Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, conservative scholars found an easy way out of this debate with a classic "both-and" approach, which goes by the name "inaugurated eschatology." Associated originally with Werner Kümmel, the position was popularized by George Eldon Ladd and today by N.T. Wright.
Congdon is displeased that 'inaugurated eschatology' maintains a hegemony over Bultmann's 'realized eschatology' in his laments such as "today the phrase 'already but not yet' is a theological truism" (p.10) that has "near-universal acceptance" (p.10) and that "we are now conditioned to ignore statements about the disciples not tasting death before they see the kingdom of God (Mark 9:1; Matt 16:28; Luke 9:27)" (p.10-1). Bultmann opposes all partial or completely futuristic hopes of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and believes that the kingdom has already been realized here and now, and any conclusion about a futuristic kingdom is in the realm of speculation. There is no futuristic kingdom of God that is not already revealed, and there is no compromise between a realized kingdom and a future kingdom as espoused by those who affirm an "already/not-yet" and other 'both-and' solutions. Bultmann believes a sober realism approach to the New Testament should be adopted that recognizes that the futuristic Kingdom of God has never arrived, so a 'realized eschatology' must be adopted as a result of it.
Why then is the "already/not-yet" universally accepted? Congdon answers:
The reason is obvious: We are deeply uncomfortable with the idea that the people whose views we hold to be authoritative, perhaps even infallible, might have held ideas that were simply wrong or at least profoundly alien to our own way of thinking.
Congdon is correct that myth or errant/human speak may be used as a vehicle for revelation (this idea is discussed later in the book). I know of many people who will not allow the bible to speak in any non-inerrant means, especially by those who advocate for biblical inerrancy today. I also agree that the New Testament presents a serious dilemma regarding the predictions regarding the return of Jesus within the lifetime of the apostles as Congdon states, and that is not indisputably resolved by the "already/not-yet" advocates. However, the difficulties these verses pose do not mean I am forced with an either/or between biblical inerrancy or completely realized eschatology, but this is likely due to my amateur knowledge of Bultmann's theology. I believe even Bultmann had a futuristic component to his eschatology in his affirmation of resurrection. What benefited me the most from this section is that Congdon is correct that the "already/not-yet" should not be asserted as an incontestable truth, otherwise it becomes another tenet of fundamentalism, and that we must not dismiss problems because they are uncomfortable.
If I understand Congdon correctly, by the phrase "realized eschatology" Bultmann means that we may no longer expect a future return of Christ, and that eschatology must be reoriented around our current lives lived, not a future life that is yet to come. This is rationalized by identifying the New Testament apocalypticism as a radically different understanding of the world that is contrary to how modern man understands the world today. Modern man is no longer, according to Bultmann, able to operate with the same cosmology of the biblical world. Notice Congdon's use of phrase "profoundly alien" in this last quote, which is repeatedly restated in many phrases such as "truly strange and other the biblical world is" (p.11) and the "alien character of the bible" (p.12) to describe Bultmann's belief that the world of the bible and the New Testament is radically different than our modern understanding of the cosmos, and the radically otherness of the ancient world alienates us from it, making most of the ancient world non-translatable to the modern world. The primarily differences between modern people today to the New Testament is the New Testament's description of the cosmology as a three-tiered universe and its use of apocalypticism to falsely predicted the return of Jesus within the lifetime of the apostles (and other reasons too). This is evident in the second "question for reflection" at the end of the chapter:
2. What does it mean to believe in the "return" or "second coming" of Christ? Can Christianity withstand the loss of belief in Christ's literal return? If so, how might we interpret the creed's confession that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?
5. Can belief in the authority of scripture coexist with the claim that the biblical authors were wrong about certain points, some of which were held in high importance (e.g., the imminent return)?
Overall, I'm learning to appreciate Bultmann more, however I retain the criticisms expressed by Bultmann's opponents that Congdon lists such as Barth, Pannenberg, Moltmann and others. Having a "realized eschatology" has tremendous value for the here-and-now, and benefits us by demonstrating the great danger of gnostic escapism that is rampant in Evangelicalism today. I also appreciate Bultmann's ability to identify real problems in the biblical text on significant issues, and that we have to be cognizant of our biases such as the blind acceptance of the "already/not-yet".
I highly recommend Congdon's Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology for anyone who wishes to learn about Bultmann from a scholar who appreciates Bultmann. I may remain to be one of those students of Congdon and Bultmann who ultimately remains unconvinced, but yet highly benefited by this scholarly work and believe anyone who reads this excellent book will be benefited as well.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received these book free from Wipf and Stock Publishers in exchange for a review on this blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Image sources: 1) Photo of David W. Congdon's book cover.
George Hunsinger provides an excellent summary of Karl Barth's modifications of Classical Theism in his new book, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal, which I've provided in the quotation below. In the same chapter, Hunsinger also provides a definition of Classical Theism as Aseity, Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility and Timelessness with references to Anselm's Monologion and Proslogion.
Barth's modifications are excellent improvements to each tenant of Classical Theism. His definition of aseity is inline with the Reformed Tradition, maintaining God's transcendence, yet this does not prevent God from also being the source of life. Simplicity for Barth also includes multiplicity, especially a trinitarian one. God's immutability does not make God a inanimate (i.e. dead) God that is motionless. God's impassibility does not prevent God from loving or experiencing in the suffering of the cross; This is an affirmation of Jürgen Moltmann's reappropriation of Luther's phrase "Crucified God." And lastly, Barth's timelessness clarifies time in relationship to eternity. Barth's 'recasting' of Classical Theism (as Hunsinger phrases) demonstrates that God is not a prisoner of His own perfections!
Barth found it possible (and necessary) to accept in modified form certain divine predications of classical theism.
- Aseity. "God himself and he alone is the principle and source from which [he is] all that he is . . . eternally . . . in the act of his existence as the living God" (IV/3, 80). "This God has no need of us. This God is self-sufficient. . . . He is not under any need or constraint" (IV/1, 346).
- Simplicity. "God is certainly simple," but not according to "the absolutized idea of simplicity" as found in classical theism (II/1, 450). "God in himself is not just simple, but in the simplicity of his essence he is threefold--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" (III/2, 218). Because his simplicity includes multiplicity in itself (II/1, 329), the living God is free to operate in multiple ways ad extra without ceasing to be perfectly indivisible in himself.
- Immutability. God's immutability means that "he is always the same in every change" (II/1, 496). "He is what he is continually and self-consistently" (II/1, 494). Although he partakes freely in the alteration of creation, he does so as the Lord, so that his being and essence do not change along with creation, "He is what he is in eternal actuality. He never is it only potentially (not even in part)" (II/1, 494). Whatever God does ad extra, he does in accord with his antecedent being. His external works always correspond (entsprechen) to something "in his own essence" (II/1, 496). In all his external works he remains "rich in himself," never losing, altering, or contradicting himself (II/1, 495). God's immutability is "the constancy of his faithfulness to himself" as the triune God who loves in freedom (IV/1, 561). His constancy is both "ethical" and "ontological."
- Impassibility. "[God] is absolute, infinite, exalted, active, impassible, transcendent, but in all this he is the One who loves in freedom, the One who is free in his love, and therefore not his own prisoner. He is all this as the Lord, and in such a way that he embraces the opposites of these concepts even while he is superior to them" (IV/1, 187). Barth agrees with classical theism that nothing apart from or opposed to God can cause him to suffer. He goes beyond classical theism, however, in positing that God freely and sovereignly takes human suffering into his own being through his union with humankind in the humanity of the incarnate Son. In and through the mediation of Christ, God takes suffering and death into his own being in order to triumph over them by destroying them. The impassible God becomes passible by grace. He truly suffers in Christ--in his divine being, not just in his humanity--but in so doing he remains strong to prevail. Suffering and death are destroyed in the annihilating fire of God's love. In this radicalized form Barth affirms with Cyril and Gregory of Nazianzus the suffering of the impassible God.
- Timelessness. Although created time does not belong to God's eternal being, his being includes its own unique form of temporality. This unique time is "the [eternal] form of the divine being in its triunity." It is "a movement which does not signify the passing away of anything, a succession which in itself is also beginning and end" (II/1, 615). Without this inner eternal temporality, God as triune would not be the living God in himself (II/1, 638-39).
Hunsinger, George. Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. 131-33. Print.
Header Image Source: "Illuminated initial from Anselm's Monologion" by Hugo Pictor - Anselm of Canterbury's Monologion, manuscripted by Hugo Pictor, Jumièges scriptorium, late 11th century  downloaded from . Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
In N.T. Wright's newly published book, Paul and His Recent Interpreters: Some Contemporary Debates, he provides a fascinating critique of Sachkritik (material criticism) and those scholars who use it. Sachkritik is the german word for material criticism (or subject criticism), which is the attempt by scholars to separate the subject (Sache) from the form of the subject is presented in the text to the readers, in an attempt to understand the true meaning of the text. Rudolf Bultmann is most famous for his use of Sachkritik in his Theology of the New Testament, and for this he receives the bulk of N.T. Wright's criticism in the first chapters of his new book. Wright disparages the Sachkritik scholars, by accusing them of presumptive arrogance, as if these scholars knew what Paul intended to communicate better than Paul himself.
(I've modified the formatting of quotation by including the footnotes in square brackets and linking directly to the books cited.)
Until we catch up with the complexities of such an enquiry—until, in other words, we allow a properly historical vision of Paul to take priority over later images—we will not advance towards a fuller understanding.
This process has been delayed by a scholarly move which is, in fact, remarkably unscholarly. So strong have been the traditions of Pauline interpretation in the western academy that many have assumed they knew, sometimes better than Paul did himself, what questions he was 'really' asking (despite what he actually said). [I add these parentheses because, of course, I once wrote a book with the hostage-to-fortune title What St Paul Really Said. In my case, the 'really' was implying a contrast, not with some of the ideas which happened to occur in Paul's letters, but with some of the interpretations given by both scholars and popular writers]. Unfortunately, the apostle did not have the benefit of a relaxed sabbatical in an accommodating twentieth-century scholar will have to do it for him. This generates a process (it seems too kind to call it a 'method') known as Sachkritik, 'material criticism', 'the interpreter's criticism of the formulation of the text in the light of what (he thinks) the subject-matter (Sache) to be'. [Morgan, The Nature of New Testament Theology, 42. The whole discussion (42-52) is important.] In other words, we know better than Paul what he 'really' wanted to say, and we now have ways of making sure he will say exactly that.
[e.g. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 198: what Paul wanted to say in 1 Cor 15 was that human existence both before and beyond death would be 'somatic' in Bultmann's sense; but Paul, whose 'capacity for abstract thinking is not a developed one', muddles this up with bodily resurrection. On Sachkritik see also e.g. Matlock, Unveiling the Apocalyptic Paul, 124 (noting that it seemed as though 'Paul deserved a hand up from the modern interpreter at those points where he found it beyond his power to maintain against the currents of his time his critical insights'); 126 n. 135, quoting Conzelmann, Current Problems in Pauline Research, 175 in summary of Bultmann's program to know better than Paul himself what he was 'really' saying, and like a wise sub-editor must help the author make his meaning clearer by slicing through all those awkward bits which didn't quite fit.
My other favorite example of his genre is Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, 71, striking through Rom 3:1-8 like a tutor responding to an essay from a dull pupil: 'The argument of the epistle would go much better if this whole section were omitted.' In other words, 'I am determined that Paul should talk about what I think he was talking about, whatever ideas he may have to the contrary.' Whatever else this may be, it is not responsible historical exegesis.]
Wright, N. T. Paul and His Recent Interpreters: Some Contemporary Debates.
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015. 33. Print.
Wright gives two fascinating examples of unscholarly behavior of Sachkritik scholars. The first is Rudolf Bultmann's correction is of Paul's belief in a bodily resurrection. According to Wright, Bultmann believes Paul has muddled things up because Paul's 'capacity for abstract thinking is not a developed one' (quoting Bultmann). Wright scolds Bultmann because (according to Wright), Bultmann understood what Paul intended to say better than Paul himself!
C.H. Dodd is also targeted but does not receive as many pages of criticism as Bultmann. I remember reading C.H. Dodd's The Epistle of Paul to the Romans and I was taken back by the audacious statements in it, such as the one Wright cites Dodd saying in the commentary that Paul should have not included Romans 3:1-8 in the letter! (The header image is inspired by this comment by Dodd). Dodd's commentary is unlike any other commentary on Romans I've read. Dodd's arrogancy is audacious in the way he corrects the epistle to the Romans, as if he knew better than Paul himself! Wright sums up Dodd's bravado well when he says "tutor responding to an essay from a dull pupil." Wright likewise disdains C.H. Dodd for comments such as: 'The argument of the epistle would go much better if this whole section were omitted.' In other words, 'I am determined that Paul should talk about what I think he was talking about, whatever ideas he may have to the contrary.' Wright concludes regarding Dodd, "Whatever else this may be, it is not responsible historical exegesis."
A close friend of Clement Dodd's family composed this famous poem about C.H. Dodd:
"I think it extremely odd
That a little professor named Dodd
Should spell, if you please,
his name with three D's
When one is sufficient for God."
Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Ed. Donald K. McKim.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998. 481. Print.
Lastly, N.T. Wright includes a statement of humility, because he himself, wrote a book title: What St Paul Really Said. So in the end, N.T. Wright is like the pot calling the kettle black in his criticism of Rudolf Bultmann, C.H. Dodd and all unscholarly Sachkritik scholars! I have benefited from all three scholars, and enjoy their books, and hope this promotes awareness and discussion of the good, the bad and the ugly of Sachkritic unscholarly scholars!