Book Review: ‘Trinitarian Theology After Barth’

Trinitarian Theology After Barth‘, edited by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday

Pickwick Publications, 418 pp. $36.80

I love books of essays. Spaces can be opened and explored in a collection of essays in ways that can’t be done in a monograph, and this volume is no exception. Focusing on three main themes – theology with Barth, theology after Barth, and theology beyond Barth – the essays here all engage, in one way or another, the doctrine of the Trinity.

After a brief foreword by John Webster, the first theme, theology with Barth, is composed of four fantastic essays by Paul Molnar (‘The Role of the Holy Spirit in Knowing the Triune God’, which went on to form a large section of his latest book, ‘Faith, Freedom and the Spirit’), Ivor J. Davidson (‘Divine Light: Reflections After Barth), Murray Rae (‘The Spatiality of God’), and Bruce McCormack (‘The Doctrine of the Trinity after Barth: An Attempt to Reconstruct Barth’s Doctrine in Light of His Later Christology).

The highlights here for me are the essays by Davidson and Rae, respectively. Each masterfully fleshes out important and fascinating themes in Barth, the former dealing with just what it means to confess a God whose light has invaded our dark world, and the latter dealing, in conversation with John Webster and Ian MacKenzie with how the concept of spatiality serves to ground the differentiation of the persons of the Trinity and thus grounding the distinct-ness of creaturely being who have their own space distinct from God. Molnar and McCormack’s essays while important in their own right are going to be fairly familiar ground to anyone familiar with their debate over the immanent/economic Trinity. In fact, Molnar subjects some of McCormack’s essay to criticial scrutiny in his most recent book, ‘Faith, Freedom and the Spirit’.

The second them, theology after Barth, is the longest and densest of the three sections, with seven essays by Benjamin Myers (‘Election, Trinity and the History of Jesus: Reading Barth with Rowan Williams’), Phillip Tolliday (‘Obedience and Subordination in Barth’s Trinity’), Myk Habets (Filioque? Nein: A Proposal for Coherent Coinherence’), Andrew Burgess (‘the Triune Saviour of the World’), Adam McIntosh, (‘The Contributions of Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Appropriation to a Trinitarian Ecclesiology’), Andrew Nicol (‘Why Do Humans Die? An Exploration of the Necessity of Death in the Theology of Robert Jenson with Reference to Karl Barth’s Discussion of “Ending Time’), and John C. McDowell (Prayer, Particularity and the Subject of Divine Personhood: Who are Brümmer and Barth Invoking When They Pray?’)

This section is where most of the meat is – here is where Barth’s theology and its implications are being hammered out. For my part, I enjoyed Tolliday’s contribution the most, where he argues for a conception of eternal subordination where, contra Paul Molnar, for example, the subordination is an aspect of the immanent Trinity, and not something read from the economy back into the immanent. Interestingly enough we see a second instance here of very recent engagement by Molnar in’Faith, Freedom and the Spirit’ where Myers’s essay is taken to task (and I believe Molnar is substantially correct in his critique of Myers aversion to the logos asarkos as well as his historicism, but that’s a post for another day). Habets’s essay is also worth reading and re-reading, as its the most dense and closely argued of the bunch, moving from Barth, to Augustine, to Torrance and Athanasius, to Roman Catholic theologian  Thomas Weinandy towards a re-conceiving of the divine processions.

The third and final theme, theology beyond Barth, contains five essays, by Ulrike Link-Wieczorek (‘The Doctrine of the Trinity – the Major Stumbling Block in Inter-Religious Dialogue? Reflections on the Methodological Function of Theological Concepts’), Antony Glading (‘Temporality, Trinuity and the Third Article: The Mediatoral Work of the Holy Spirit in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics‘), Hadyn D. Nelson (‘The Dynamic Stillness of God: Trinitarian Conceptions of Divine Immutability and Impassibility’), Ashley Moyse (‘Reconciling Normative Tensions in Biomedical Ethics: Constructing an Ethics of Coinherence Informed by the Trinitarian Theology of Karl Barth’) and Nicola Hoggard-Creegan (‘Vestiges of the Trinity’).

The essays that make up this theme are generally shorter but open up the most space. One of the most interesting essays here is Moyse’s essay on normative ethics making use of perichoresis in order to unify a ‘trinity’ of approaches in medical ethics – the teleological, the deontological and the existential – with what Moyse takes to be three divine commands – the command to life, law and promise, respectively – that ultimately serve to guide human action. This essay is fascinating, if a bit short, and I can’t help but wish more room was given to engage with substantial thinkers in the field of ethics, historical or contemporary (surely Kant or Sartre could figure in such a discussion). Another favourite of mine was Nelson’s essay on impassibility and immutability which has long been a perennial topic of mine. While not, as far as I can see, substantially ‘beyond’ Barth – indeed, Nelson seems to give a more or less standard gloss on impassibility, relying heavily on Weinandy, VanHoozer and Torrance as well as Jüngel – it is a fantastic presentation and exposition of a broadly ‘Barthian’ doctrine of impassibility/immutability. Readers familiar with Barth with be familiar with most of the concepts advanced in this essay, and in my estimation this paper may have been more suited to the first theme of theology with Barth.

Overall, this collection of essays will serve to stimulate Trinitarian thinking in the key of Barth – creating, as I said before, more space than giving decisive answers and providing a good deal of material with which theologians can fruitfully engage. Of all the essays, I would personally love to see more work done along Ashley Moyse’s line – normative ethics is a tremendously important field that presents a wealth of opportunities for dialogue with theology. This volume serves as a demonstration that Trinitarian theology, either with, after or beyond Barth stands only to gain from engaging with Barth.

**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review


3 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Trinitarian Theology After Barth’

    • whitefrozen January 10, 2016 / 6:47 pm

      Your welcome Myk, it was a pleasure to read/review! I’ll put ‘Ecumenical Perspectives’ on the list, as that sounds like an outstanding volume as well.


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