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Karl Barth's 14-Volume Church Dogmatics

 

Barth’s impact on the study of theology is immense, not only in his systematic and dogmatic constructions, but also in his construal of the history of church doctrine. One of Barth’s legacies was the inauguration of generations of historiography that sought to distinguish between the core insights of the Reformation and in the Barthian judgment the scholastic trappings that shrouded Calvin and to a greater extent the succeeding generations of Protestant orthodox theologians. Jordan J. Ballor

My wife and father teamed up to buy me Karl Barth’s 14-volume English translation of Church Dogmatics, making this (my 48th) one of the more meaningful birthday celebrations since childhood.

I’ve already situated the set on my desktop shelves, right here in front of my laptop, just above my Collected C.G. Jung.

I know, I know — my enthusiasm will not be shared by most.

For me, however, to be confronted daily by this much intellectual virtuosity, knowledge, synthesis and insight is a mystical boon — and if you’ve ever read the prose of either Barth or Jung (even in translation), you know what a stream-of-consciousness psychedelic experience it often is.

Now, the most amazing part.

This set is priced at the publisher’s website for $995.00 US. At Amazon, they’ve got it for $671.62.

But… at Christianbook, you, too, may receive this theological treasure for the low, low price of… $99.00.

Or… if you’re really into this thing, you can cough up $395.00 (down from $1095.00) at Christianbook for a paperback Church Dogmatics Study Edition 31-volume set, from T&T Clark International. For the extra bucks, you get the original German beside a revised English translation — and, hey, it’s only money, right?

As for me, I couldn’t be happier than to receive this handsome Hendrickson hardback set, into which I am about to dive headlong.

Yippee!!!!!!!

Teresa of Avila

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  Matthew 21:22 (RSV)

Since beginning this blog a couple months ago, the back of my mind has been occupied with an unasked question: What is the best-case scenario for this project of reconciliation?

As I feel my way toward some sort of synthesis between Judeo/Christian and Eastern approaches to contemplative attainment, and I extend a tentative hand out to those in the Christian world who show a level of openness and tolerance for non-orthodox points of view, I have to face the very real possibility that it’s just never going to happen — I won’t find an ideal church setting that somehow matches the vision hidden behind all these words.

This morning, for instance, I found myself browsing Google for local church websites. For the fourth or fifth time over the past couple years, I sampled sermon mp3’s, read “what we believe” statements, studied “about Pastor Bob” essays, and subscribed to both podcasts and emails. I found that most of the churches (even in Boulder) take the Bible as inerrant, believe that the Holy Spirit is a person (male, in fact), and insist that the unsaved will experience excruciating torment for all eternity. A few churches (this being Boulder) pronounced themselves safe havens for the gay-lesbian-transgender community, and I could find nothing definitive about their actual Christian beliefs — as though the Bible has long ago passed into oblivion, a vestige of an outdated humanity that has moved on to more exciting things, whatever they are.

This experience moves me closer to an insight that goes something like this:  The type of church toward which I would otherwise be drawn — that which studies the Bible above and beyond all other activities — is also intolerant and fear-based, guarding a fundamentalist/literalist company line that leaves no room for genuine dissent or even questioning (i.e., you’d better end up believing what the church believes, or you’re gone). The other type of church, which goes out of its way to ensure that everyone is safe and all viewpoints are honored, ends up adopting so many popular, New Age, Jungian-inspired elements that I may as well just hang out at the local psychic school, metaphysical bookstore or Unity Church — all of which I’ve tried (worked for several years at a metaphysical bookstore, in fact), without ultimate succor.

As for engaging a contemplative element within local church environs… forget about it! Other than the big Methodist church downtown, which at one point offered a “meditation” class that met on Tuesday or Thursday nights, there’s nary a mention of contemplative practice on any of the websites I studied. The meditation class in question was based on Joel Goldsmith’s writings, he being a past luminary within the New Thought movement of the early-to-mid 20th century. I actually love Goldsmith’s take on things… but, again, I can get that anywhere in Boulder; it’s not what I’m looking for in a local church home.

At a deeper level, I recognize that it’s not about all these churches failing to meet my hopes and expectations.  I know that they do not exist in order to conform to insights and directives arising from my own, personal journey.  Leaders and members of these churches have their own beliefs and experiences, and they’re just doing their thing.  More power to them!

If I’m honest, I never expected to find a church that advertises itself as a community of rigorous and skillful contemplatives (i.e., “urban monks”), teaching its members how to attain and sustain ecstatic union with the Divine as a method for actualizing Christ’s essential teachings.  Who could expect that, when none of the world’s other religious traditions (with the very, very rare exception) value the ecstatic core of their original teachings?

A test confronts me here.

This test asks me to trust.

Rather than grow despondent over the fact that the religion of my upbringing continues to marginalize its “natural mystics,” I am challenged to find a faith within that has already guided me to this point — and that will surely lead me to the most appropriate resolution.

From earliest childhood, in fact, this inner guidance has been operative and available, showing that all good things are not of “me,” but have poured forth from a hidden (yet all-Present) source that responds to conscious surrender.  In other words… things go best when I relinquish the stress and strain of feeling it’s all on “me,” and I present myself a willing “slave” of the hidden source.

So, I am ready to be surprised by what comes of this search, knowing that it will hit me when I least expect it.