I am often rather perplexed at the common impression within academia that Barth's theology has little relevance to suffering among the oppressed and marginalized. I have encountered many individuals who caricature Barth as a typical western, white, male theologian who has no concern for anything but theology as a pure intellectual exercise that is entirely detached from the needs and concerns of humanity. In God of the Oppressed, James Cone doesn't offer the same caricature by any means of Barth's theology but he asks this rather haunting question: "What could Karl Barth possibly mean for black students who had come from the cotton fields of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, seeking to change the structures of their lives in a society that had defined black as nonbeing?" (5) There are many other respected and revered theologians in addition to Cone who find little relevance within Barth's dogmatics to address their particular context of suffering and marginalization.
Sometimes when I read questions like those posed by Cone in relation to Barth's theology, I am tempted to think that Cone has the final word about Barth. The theology and ideas in the Church Dogmatics really have nothing of critical import for the suffering among the black community, oppressed women, and the struggling poor in Latin American countries. What does this mean for how Barth did theology and how should theologians living within the twenty-first century seek to correct Barth's woeful neglect of such critical concerns? Is the problem with Barth's theology per se or a lack of influential engagement within Barthian studies as a whole to parse out the connection between Barth's dogmatics and oppression within humanity?
These questions have really been on my mind all the more as I took a liberation theology course this past semester. I kept wondering what Barth could ever say to the countless voices I heard throughout the semester of individuals and communities who write theology from their context of poverty, oppression, discrimination, marginalization, and otherness. Then over Christmas break, I was really thankful to open up Eugene Rogers' Sexuality and the Christian Body to find a different understanding of Barth's theology than I usually found in my own experiences. Rogers laments the popular disconnection between dogmatics and various social issues: "...only too rarely do Christian ethicists connect doctrines like incarnation, election, and resurrection with race, gender, and orientation" (18). This quote is followed by a footnote that notes Karl Barth as an exception to the rule of such binaries. I stared at this footnote for quite some time wondering if I had read it correctly.
In short, I think Rogers is really onto something and he approaches the problems and questions surrounding the issue of sexuality from a dogmatic standpoint. I read the tremendous fruit that came from Rogers' methodology in this respect and wonder how much more could be done for the issues of oppression when they are informed by Barth's dogmatics and his revolutionary understandings of certain doctrines.
All of that is to say that I hope to write a series of blog posts over the next few weeks (if I can find enough time) to explore the connections I've made between Barth's dogmatics and various issues I've encountered and questioned this past semester. Most of these connections will be made through Barth's christology and how his particular understanding of the communication of attributes can critically and helpfully inform issues such as feminism and disability. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.