Review Article: Review Of “Karl Barth And The Incarnation”, By Darren O. Sumner -- By: James J. Cassidy

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 79:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: Review Article: Review Of “Karl Barth And The Incarnation”, By Darren O. Sumner
Author: James J. Cassidy


Review Article:
Review Of “Karl Barth And The Incarnation”,
By Darren O. Sumner

James J. Cassidy

On occasion one picks up a book and is delighted to find the rare confluence of thorough research and crystal clear articulation. This book is one of those instances. Darren Sumner’s writing is lucid and exhibits a penetrating grasp of the subterranean foundations that undergird the thought of Karl Barth. In short, he understands Barth, which is a virtue not to be taken for granted among current interpreters of the great Swiss theologian.

That is not to say, however, that everything in Sumner’s book will gain immediate consensus among Barth interpreters. Even so, because of the high quality of the work it warrants a close and careful study. Therefore, rather than the traditional book review, I offer here a review article in order to give due attention to the book’s strengths and the critical questions that arise from its observations and conclusions. The first half of the review will highlight the contents of Sumner’s work, giving a summary of his insights and arguments. The second half will critically engage questions that are posed in the first half.

I. Summary Of The Contents And Argument

The book consists of five chapters along with an introductory chapter and bibliography. It also includes an abridged index (only a little more than a page). The structure and layout of the volume are nicely presented and easy on the eyes.

The introductory chapter sets the book as a whole in the context of the on-going debate about Barth’s Christology and the relation between his thought and that of the tradition (i.e., Chalcedonian and Reformed Christology). Of special focus is the incarnation, the person of Christ, and how we are to understand Jesus Christ as very man and very God. Taking his lead from Barth’s

Christology as it is found in CD IV, Sumner maps out how this “mature Christology” relates to the Christian tradition as a whole. The end result, says Sumner, is a “Christology that is both constructively modern and classically orthodox in character” (p. 3). On this point, Sumner is exceedingly clear that Barth appropriates the tradition, yet also advances a “highly original approach to the incarnation” (p. 9). To this end, Sumner argues for a relative amount of consistency between the Christology of earlier and later volumes of the CD. If there is any discontinuity at all, it is one of accent and emphasis, not substance. The basic question that Sumner seeks to answer is one of identity. Who is Jesus Christ according to Barth’s Christology? Is he in fact the self-same person as the Word of God, without leftover and remainde...

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