Quick Sketch: Barth's Dogmatic Solar System

There's a definite sense in which the world of Barth after Bruce McCormack's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, and in the course of his theological career, is a world of election, a world of God's own divine eternity as the sphere upon which all things rely and in which all things happen.

This is as much as to say that, when we realized Jupiter's character as a body and learned about its role in the heliocentric model, we discovered a deep and far-reaching insight into the causes of the particular motions of the minor bodies of the inner solar system. The inner system is the way it is because of the necessary contribution of Jupiter.

But it must also be said that a solar system like ours with only Jupiter at its periphery would look quite different. There are more massive bodies orbiting out there beyond the belt, and without the rest of them there, the orbital mechanics cannot be calculated correctly. The heavy gravity of the outer system, in its complex pull against the gravity of the Sun, gives the environment in which Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars exist in the ways that they do. If it were different, if it were more or less, the inner system in which we live would be a quite different place.

Election, as visually obvious and massive and functionally essential as it is for describing the situation of our Christian existence in daily life from a Reformed perspective, is not sufficient to that description. It requires creation, that less-visible but still quite massive and influential body in its own right, and redemption, too. And, when we have accounted for these bodies, it is very likely that we will realize that this obvious Jupiter is not as heavy or as influential as we had thought it must be in the math, though it is certainly essential if we are to account for the way things are. Nor is it unaffected by the others, itself.

The work to be done is to slot the remaining massive bodies in, to describe them as thoroughly and emphatically, and when we have done so, we shall grasp our life before God, as Barth describes it, so much the better. And this, too, is the way beyond Barth on the same path.


  1. Hey Matt, thanks for this-as you can probably guess, I love how you've played with Cosmology to make your point here!

    Likewise, since I've been reading a lot of Welker lately, I especially appreciate how like him you're trying to argue for a "richer" and "textured" reading of your focus (Barth).

    If I've understood our previous conversations very well, I suspect your statement "It requires creation" reveals what you're really after here; a way to think about creation, and to get to interdisciplinary dialogue w/science, that remains thoroughly Barthian in character.

    Here's my question though: if (roughly speaking) election = Jupiter, then isn't the ONLY remaining "work to be done is to slot the remaining massive bodies in?" If so, then how exactly is this moving "beyond Barth?" How can one move beyond when one is adhering to "the same path?" Obviously (again using Welker), there will be both "continuity and discontinuity" in trying to move beyond Barth, but the way you've framed this comes across as a refining/nuancing project at heart. This is not to denigrate that task, but to say that it is a different one. Maybe I'm over-thinking this, or not understanding you, but as you've framed it this is how it's hitting me. Thoughts?

  2. Thank you, Derek. But don't get too far away from me, here! :) I'm actually only worried about incorporating the full extent of Barth's doctrine of creation, not science and religion dialogue. (Although I find no necessary conflict between them.) "Creation" isn't shorthand for scientific ways of dealing with the world. That would be the phenomenology of the creature, even out at cosmic scale.

    The reason that the work to be done moves beyond Barth on the same ... perhaps trajectory is a better word, is that while volumes II and III can and must be made to balance, standing on the line between volumes I and IV, volume V hasn't been written. The question I'm dealing with is how to construct a path through the Dogmatics that a) follows Barth as though he really is doing something coherent, and b) accounts for the mechanics of the whole. I'm looking to navigate the system.

    Also, it's charitable of me to grant election as Jupiter; I really think the loci in Barth's dogmatics are more balanced, and differently distributed, than the Jovians are.

    1. Thanks Matt. Just to clarify, I wasn't intentionally making creation = scientific ways of dealing with the world, but nonetheless it's a helpful clarification. FWIW, I meant to relate them sequentially; proper doctrine of creation 1st, then move to interdisciplinary dialogue.

      This statement intrigues me: "I'm actually only worried about incorporating the full extent of Barth's doctrine of creation." This implies that you're (at minimum) open to the idea that most (all?) readings of the CD miss this "full extent." So, returning to your illustration, do you hope that by articulating the accurate amount of gravitational pull exerted by the doctrine of creation within/on the CD you'll achieve (a)-(b)?

      Am I getting this right?

    2. It's not just the mass, but the realtive orbits and their interactions with other things, but yes, that's the suggestion I'm making. I know there's more than one current dissertation on volume III in process, but at least in the current literature I don't see what I see in volume III as a whole, standing in its position in the larger whole. Hunsinger has some keys to it, the questions about naturalism touch on it, there are a lot of tangents to or chords through this sphere, but not the sphere itself. Occasionally even sections of it, but I'm chasing the whole -- especially because it seems to balance out the concern for election, as two moves both done for a third purpose. Their mass is leverage on the "inner system."

      And I do also think that getting this right is key to getting a Barth that can play public theologian in R&S circles. But that's another book! :)

    3. Got it. I have to say, this sounds really interesting Matt. As I mentioned earlier, my current reading of Welker has led me to be increasingly interested in this sort of work (what Patrick Miller describes as the dialectic of complexity and coherence), and I'm excited to hear that you're doing within the Barthian solar system. I'll be fascinated to see what your argument looks like. Please do keep in touch along the way ;).

  3. I like this post, Matt! It keeps things open ... this perspective allows for an After Barth, which is to say not without Barth.

    Something I have been coming to appreciate more and more is the fact that Barth is quite pastoral in orientation. I know this realization is nothing new, but reading Hunsinger's recently edited book on Barth and Scripture has helped provide a way into Barth that allows more layers of Barth to be appreciated; i.e. beyond the usual academic discussions that surround his work (and rightfully so!). Anyway, I'll look forward to reading your dissertation some day, Matt!

    1. Indeed. Extrapolation always requires good interpolation, and the farther out you want to go, the better you need to understand the forces that influence the trajectory of what's already there. That is the way to come after Barth, without having to be post-Barth.

      And amen to the pastoral orientation! If we forget that the point of the Church Dogmatics is to provide a framework in which we may validate good preaching and responsible action, we forget what we're reading. It is very important to do the dogmatic work, but it is just as important to remember why and what for.


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