The Ambiguity Of Capacity: A Rejoinder To Trevor Hart -- By: Stephen J. Andrews

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 45:1 (NA 1994)
Article: The Ambiguity Of Capacity: A Rejoinder To Trevor Hart
Author: Stephen J. Andrews

The Ambiguity Of Capacity:
A Rejoinder To Trevor Hart

Stephen Andrews


This brief rejoinder challenges Trevor Hart’s suggestion that Karl Barth may have misunderstood Emil Brunner’s notion of ‘a point of contact’, and rejects the claim that Barth’s own theology requires a positing of human ‘capacity’, defined in a passive sense. The essay begins by sketching the broader context of the Barth-Brunner debate, which makes the proposal of mutual misunderstanding between the two less likely. The second section explores Hart’s concept of ‘capacity’, and seeks to show that this is incompatible with Barth’s theology. An exposition of Barth’s doctrine of the incarnation forms the third part of the essay, and is an attempt to demonstrate that what stood at the heart of the debate from Barth’s point of view was divine freedom. Then the rejoinder concludes with a rarely cited account of Barth’s attempt at personal reconciliation with Brunner.

In 1975, John Macquarrie bemoaned the fact that Christians have a weak theology of nature.1 The intervening eighteen years has produced some work of merit in this area, notably at the hands of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Eberhard Jungel, but I doubt whether Macquarrie’s opinion today would be very different from what it was then. It is for this reason that I welcomed the article by Trevor Hart in the last issue of the Tyndale Bulletin (44 [1993] 289-305), entitled, ‘A Capacity for Ambiguity?: The Barth - Brunner Debate Revisited’. In this clearly and engagingly written essay, Hart offers a useful introduction to and exposition of the 1934 debate between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner over the matter of natural theology. Of particular

interest was Hart’s attempt to relate the controversy to the exigencies of Germany in the pre-war period,2 as well as his reconsideration of Brunner’s concepts of a ‘point of contact’ and the human ‘capacities’ for revelation and speech. In my estimation, the chief contribution Hart makes to the discussion is his contention that Barth either misunderstood Brunner or, what he seems to think is more likely, that Barth was inconsistent in his own theological reasoning. Hart argues that when this inconsistency is explored, we find that there may be room for a natural theology in Barth’s system after all. Barth was, of course, capable of missing Brunner’s meaning and of lapses in his own theology. But the view being offered in this rejoinder is that Barth almost certainly did not misunderstand Brunner, and that his theological inconsistencies, if such they were, cannot be so...

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