Tag Archives: Karl Rahner

George Hunsinger’s Lecture on Barth & the Trinity

What’s George Doing on CSPAN!?!?!

Last week in our Trinity Seminar George Hunsinger led a discussion about Church Dogmatics 1.1 Sections 8-12. Here are some notes that you might find helpful/interesting:

Reading for the Outline

Barth has a very detailed outline by which he structures Church dogmatics. “Every paragraph is written around a central mainpoint” if you read each mainpoint you can reconstruct his outline. You can go paragraph by paragraph and find out the main point.

Pronoun Problem

Keep track of the antecedent of the pronoun. If you get lost start looking for the pronoun and trace it back to the antecedent.

Barth’s Modalism

Many people have come away from Barth with the impression that its modalistic.

How are ones and trinity related? Dialectically! Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity.

He wants oneness and trinity to both be basic, and not privilege one over the other.

Another reason for this dialectical organization is that the reality of God is ineffable for God.

Trinitarian Language

Language – oneness and threeness are not univocal nor equivocal, but we are driven to use these terms. So we always have to have a recognition that we are using these terms in a peculiar way.

The preposition “in” does a lot of work in Barth’s theology. Barth is sort of “mystical” – the three persons are “co-inherent’ in the divine ousia. The divine ousia is co-inherent in the divine hypostasis.


The indivisible divine being is a given – the three are mutually participating in one another…. The Holy Trinity for Barth is a communion. For Barth – Koinonia is ultimate reality. Its not “being” itself but “being” in relation and in communion. The telos is “koinonia.”

Economic/Immanent Relations and Epistemology is Asymmetrical

The unknowability of God is given in and with the knowability of the Holy Trinity. The unknowable part of God is still Trinitarian.

What he is in revelation He is antecedently in Himself. And what he is antecedently in Himself He is in revelation. (466) We don’t know about the immanent trinity directly. As far as knowledge of God is concerned we go from economy to immanent. God is not a different God than the one in all eternity. When we know God in Christ, we are taken up and participating in the truth of God’s self knowledge. This is the danger of Rahner’s rule… the immanent Trinity is a different form of the Economic Trinity. Its an asymmetrical relation.

The Divine Ousia

One thing we find in Barth, and not Moltmann and Jenson is that God’s ousia is invidisible. Barth upholds a strong version of divine simplicity. This has to do with the otherness of God. If you weaken simplicity you weaken your concept of eternity. You are in danger of making eternity someone = temporality and adding a dependent element into the Godhead. The divine ousia is one and indivisible and also living at the same time.

Barth on the Spirit

The Holy Spirit does three distinct things for Barth – 1)HS brings Christ to us and 2)us to Christ, and 3)The Spirit brings everything into unity with Christ. The Spirit does not add anything, he actualizes it. The Spirit “applies.” But Barth avoids the “application” language because it makes stuff impersonal.

Threefold Office of Christ

Prophet – Truth Bringer. It has correspondence to Spirit in Truth.

King – Messiah, Lord. It has correspondence to Spirit in his power of Love. Spirit also brings the Lordship of Christ to us. None can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit. Priest – intercession, worship, thanks, praise, brings us into union and communion with Christ. Access, blood, expiation, propitiation. Correspondence in Spirit by his teaching us to praise, bringing us into union with Christ. The person, work, and benefits of Christ are distinct but we cannot keep them apart.

On Rahner’s Rule

Key difference between Rahner’s rule and Barth’s doctrine of antecedence is that there is an asymmetry between the relation of economic/immanent in Barth whereas for Rahner, the economic and immanent is so strictly related that any sort of difference is collapsed. For Barth there is a difference in form but not in essence. Interesting question – is everything that is true of the economic trinity, but not vice versa?

On Functional Subordination

Revealer – Father

Revelation – Son

Revealedness – Spirit

God reveals himself as the Lord. It’s a participatory knowledge. Its God the Spirit moving in us that gets us in this revelation.

Sometimes Barth’s rhetoric does not fully match his substance/content. The rhetoric of revealer-revelation-reavealedness dominates his theology. Part of this is his historical context – which makes us lean to much on revelation as opposed to for example reconciliation.

Modalism Again

Rhetorically Barth has modalistic tendencies. In substance he is not modalistic. Nonetheless he uses a modalistic idiom.

Does he derive his doctrine of Trinity from concept of Revelation?

Barth is trying to test whether the doctrine of the Trinity is dispensable or not. So its not a project of deriving it. The Trinity can’t just be taken out and thrown away or else you lose everything else with it. It’s a “testing” exercise rather than a derivation exercise. Three reasons why we have the trinity (other than the Biblical witness): A-Revelation, B- Reconciliation, and C-Worship. Modern theology had abandoned it and Barth is trying to show why we need it. If we take the Trinity out we are losing these three things.


Book Review – Political Theology by Fiorenza, Tanner, and Welker

Political Theology is currently a flourishing field, with even atheists like Slavoj Zizek contributing to the task. This book, Political Theology: Contemporary Challenges and Future Directions, edited by Francis Schussler Fiorenza, Klaus Tanner, and Michael Welker capitalizes on this field’s popularity and seeks to give some direction to the current discussions within Political Theology. The goal of this book was specifically to articulate “an understanding of the future tasks and potential of Political Theology in a local and global context.”

For those of unfamiliar with this field, Political Theology seeks to articulate ways in which theological concepts (explicitly or implicitly) serve as a foundation for all political, social, economic and cultural thought. It isn’t simply a discussion of Church and State, neither is it simply concerned with God’s role in politics. When speaking of Political Theology we must understand that we aren’t doing Theology proper (that is why even atheists can do Political Theology). We might consider Political Theology a sort of Feuerbachian “Theology as Anthropology” or at least carrying that tradition into our day. Johan Baptist Metz makes this anthropological connection in his essay when he points out that his own Political Theology has been shaped by Karl Rahner’s “anthropological turn” of the discourse of God. All this to say, in this book we are dealing with a political “theology as anthropology.”

This short book (only 86 dense pages long) consists of six essays, all birthed out of a Political Theology conference at the University of Heidelberg in 2010. Jurgen Moltmann makes the first contribution – he highlights the fact that all theologies are political and gives us a brief tour of several forms of Political Theology. Johan Baptist Metz writes an essay contrasting his own Political Theology with the theology of Carl Schmitt. He advocates for a theology which is even more grounded in current contexts as opposed to a metaphysical timeless Political Theology. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza adds her typical feminist take to this discussion. She argues that Political Theology needs more feminist analysis. Her husband contributes an essay as well – he argues that politics in a pluralist context needs Political Theology because religiously shaped discourse contributes something that no other sort of tradition can. Klaus Tanner makes his contribution by examining the Political Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Michael Welker concludes this collection of essays by contrasting the Political Theology of Habermas and Ratzinger. He argues that Political Theology needs to draw more from the social sciences, and that it could take its cue from the philosophy of Habermas.

Overall this book highlights three themes: 1) The future of Political Theology needs to understand the contextual nature of social relations, 2) Political Theology requires a higher degree of interaction with the social sciences, and 3) Political Theology must embrace multicontextual and pluralistic environments (XII-XIV).


The two essays that I found most helpful were Motmann’s and Francis Schussler Fiorenza’s essays. Moltmann made a strong case that there is no such thing as a-political theology. He presents the reader with a strong overview of how his thesis plays out in various context (Latin America, places undergoing ecological crises, and other global contexts). He also makes a good point that one cannot have Liberation theology in non-Christian contexts since Liberation and justice comes in the name of Jesus Christ. Francis Schussler Fiorenza’s essay was also very helpful. More than any other essay, this essay explained Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology and provided a helpful contrast with it. He makes the case that much of American political theology has been shaped by Schmitt’s ideas – both liberal and neo-conservatives are full of Schmitt’s ideas. What is needed is a critique of his theology – this critique will involve two deeply Christian concepts, that of Sin and that of Transcendence.

There are plenty of things that I felt like critiquing as I was reading this book, but I am going to restrain myself from focusing too much on any one essay – rather I will explain one issue that I have with Political Theology in its entirety. The one problem that I had with political theology is that it really doesn’t seem to be “Political Theology” it really seems to be “Political Anthropology.” God actually plays a very small role in most of these theologian’s theology (except for Moltmann and Fiorenza’s). As I mentioned in my summary above, Political Theology is a sort of Feuerbachian “Theology as Anthropology.” Metz (it seems to me) would wholeheartedly agree. This is a shame because I had thought that Theology had moved past its Feuerbachian stage. I though that Barth had exposed the foolishness of “Liberal” theology, yet Political Theology (it seems to me) is Feuerbach redivius. Consider the fact that even atheists can do Political Theology – it doesn’t get more Feuerbachian than that!

Do I recommend this book? Yes I do. If you want a taste of what Political Theology is like, and you want a glimpse into it future then this is a great book. Yet to me it seems as though the entire project of Political Theology is built on a foundation of quicksand. Unless Political Theology starts doing a little more “theology” I am probably going to stay away from it unless absolutely necessary.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of NetGalley and WJK in exchange for an objective review.)