My Barthian Breakdown
The first two days of class were an absolute blur for me. Having spent over two years pondering this topic, and several months intensively pondering it, the moments were almost frosted with an aura and a glow, as I realized “I am finally here! This is finally happening!” After the first day, I told my wife, “I know for sure I want to be a theologian!” My excitement level was electric. I was jogging everywhere, not even taking time to eat. Reading, listening, thinking, writing, preparing, thinking, listening. Go, go, go! I was in my element!
Towards the end of the second day, however, the strain began to catch up to me. Having already decided that I did not trust Barth, I refused to simply sit and absorb his thought (if you haven’t already, please read, A Wise Shepherd of a Wandering Mind). I wanted to listen critically, and retain my own identity as a thinking individual, rather than simply becoming subsumed into Barthianism. In the terms of the above-mentioned post: I refused to enter the labyrinth, but wanted to take it all in from an aerial view, understanding without becoming overcome.
It was all too much. After putting energy into a poorly prepared presentation (time, alas, was not on my side!), my energy levels began to lag early in the afternoon on the second day. The mental strain was becoming unbearable. My head began to pound terribly, I felt what little food I had eaten begin to churn and tie my stomach in knots. Determined to get my money’s worth, I resolutely soldiered on, but finally had to call it quits: I set up my computer to record the rest of the lecture and whimpered off to bed.
My head hit the pillow at 4:00 and I descended into a dark and dreamless place until about 10:30. When I awoke I stumbled around to find food and a pen. In desperation and despair I scribbled these words out to the Lord:
“God, I really, really feel like just throwing in the towel.
“God, is it really as complicated as all this? Is all this stuff really helpful? Do we really need to be theologians after all? What is the point of this?
“On the other hand, can I really retreat into a non-theological teaching ministry? Can I pretend that the Enlightenment didn’t happen, or that Barth didn’t live?
Jesus: “Do not retreat – ride forth, mighty warrior and conquer”
“But a lifetime would not be sufficient to learn, to conquer, to master it all!
“My hope is in you, Jesus – please, please make all this clear!!”
I fell back into sleep and the next morning awoke refreshed. A decision had been made, although I don’t remember making it: I would simply give in. For the remainder of the week, I slowly allowed myself to be sucked into the vortex of Barthian thought. I did not resist. I began to understand. I made a beginning of letting myself think like he did. By the time I was ready to drive home, I was wondering what my problem with Barth had been after all? I even apologized for my candor in critiquing Barth in my assignment “Quotes from Barth.”
Sometime on the road, about 40 miles from Caronport, I began to emerge. I poked my head out of the rat-race, climbed up on top of the cage and scampered back to my Evangelicalism. I spent the next two months intensively deconstructing Barthianism and reconstructing Evangelicalism in opposition to him from Scriptures.
The result of these labors is the paper, “The Gospel According to Barth.”