Leithart’s Challenge Round #1: Karl Barth

See the original post to see what this is about.

Leithart says that the Bible speaks not only of spiritual things, but also hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation, and genital emissions. Theologians on the other hand (except for perhaps Augustine) rarely make any mention of these. It’s a blanket statement intended to shock, of course, but is it true nonetheless? Are theologians from another planet? Let’s find out…

In this round: Karl Barth (1886-1968)

According to Google Books, these words occur X number of times in his printed works:

  • hair – 64
  • sweat – 19
  • entrails – 0
  • menstruation – 1?
  • genital emissions – 11?

Despite some of the low scores, Barth actually does pretty well. He echos the same sentiment as Leithart, that God doesn’t just care about mystical, spiritual things, but also our bodies, the earth, and the whole of creation.

…we have the old Testament with so many tangible things, so that we see that the Gospel is not purely a spritual thing, merely for soul and heaven. Rather, it is for soul and BODY, heaven and EARTH, inward and OUTER life. There is no hair on my head that is not an interesting thing to God!

-Karl Barth, Table Talk, p.32

He rejects Platonism and gnosticism as detrimental to Christianity:

Eternal life as it is applied to man by this power is the declaration and pledge of his total life-exaltation, from which not a hair of his head or a breath that he draws can be excluded…and so the abstractly spritual life-exaltation at which they aim, omitting the outward aspect of man, his flesh and blood, either in neutrality or in scorn, can result only in self-deception as to the totality of his imprisonment in and with his actual life.

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume IV.2, p.317

He talks about how good Bible study is a lot of hard work:

True exegesis involves, of course, much sweat and many groans. Even so, the extent to which the commentator will be able to disclose the Spirit of Christ in his reading of Paul will not be everywhere the same.

-Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, p.17

And mentions in passing that the sowing of seed is a better analogy for the kingdom of God than sex, since it doesn’t involve our own wills so directly. The seed growing in the ground is more hidden and mysterious. (This passage was long so I didn’t include it here. I came across it because he uses the word semen.)

Stay tuned for the straight dope on 6 other theologians and finally the canon itself!

Leithart’s Challenge (Attempt #1)

In Peter Leithart’s book Against Christianity, he has a chapter on theology where he proposes an experiment for you to try at home. Though making a volcano out of vinegar and baking soda would probably have been more fun, I decided to give it a shot.

9. Theology is a “Victorian” enterprise, neoclassically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place. Wheras the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions.

10. Here’s an experiment you can do at any theological library. You even have my permission to try this at home.

Step 1: Check the indexes of any theologian you choose for any of the words mentioned in section 9 above. (Augustine does not count. Augustine’s theology is as big reality, or bigger.)

Step 2: Check the Bible concordance for the same words.

Step 3: Ponder these questions: Do theologians talk about the world the same way the Bible does? Do theologians talk about the same WORLD the Bible does?

The University of Idaho has several large shelves of theology. Unfortunately, I didn’t have more than a few minutes on my lunch break to thumb through hundreds of indexes. I decided to grab a few volumes from names that I recognized. These include:

  • Origen – Contra Celsum, (248 A.D.)
  • John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion (abridged), (1536)
  • Reinhold Niebuhr – The Nature and Destiny of Man, (1941)
  • Karl Barth – Church Dogmatics, Volume II, The Doctrine of God, (1957)
  • Hans Kung – On Being a Christian, (1974)
  • Marcus Borg – Jesus, (1989)

and just to check on his other claim…

  • Augustine – Confessions, (398)

Now this isn’t a very scientific experiment. Barth wrote thousands of pages of high-caliber material and the volume I grabbed is only 600 pages of theology proper. Augustine’s City of God would probably be more likely to contain the words I’m looking for. Borg’s brief (and rather gnostic) book on Jesus is unlikely to talk much about sweat and entrails. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

I also decided to skip the word “blood”. I’m sure blood shows up a lot in all of these. However, the “blood of Jesus that covers our sins” is an entirely different thing than the blood that squirted out on the soldier Longinus when he pierced the side of the Lord. He had to send his robe to the laundry after that.

That being said, off we go!

Hair Sweat Entrails Menstruation Genitals
Origen 0 0 0 0 0
Calvin 0 0 0 0 0
Niebuhr 0 0 0 0 0
Barth 0 0 0 0 0
Kung 1 0 0 0 0
Borg 0 0 0 0 0
Augustine 0 0 0 0 0
The Bible 83 3 0 3 0

Wait a minute! What happened?

The only reference I found in ANY of these books was Kung exploring the theology of Broadway musicals, where he quotes from a song in the 1966 show Hair:

My Hair like Jesus wore His Hallelujah,
I like it Mary loved her Son,
Why doesn’t my mother love me?

I was almost sure I had found menstruation in Augustine, but it turned out to be mensuration, which has to do with geometry. Hmmm.

Finally, the Bible struck out on a lot of these. I was using Strong’s old concordance for the KJV. Wrong words.

Another problem was that of these 6 theology books, only the one by Augustine had an exhaustive index of words in the text. The others were only lists of subjects covered. That’s not playing fair compared to a linguistic concordance.

It sure seems like fun to crawl around the library studying, weighted down with olde tomes of wisdom. But I have realized my folly. Is my job in web and databases or not? Fool! I should have just used the search features in Google Books to discover all the answers! I’m going to try again tomorrow.