Friday, January 25, 2013

October 29, 2010: the Day Brian LePort Called Me a Hipster

I do not know Brian LePort.  He also does not know me.  One way or another we have become Facebook friends, and I do at times peruse his blog, where he posts along with a couple other bloggers about theology, biblical studies, historical Jesus studies, and so on.  The other day I was googling Karl Barth and seeing what was around the blogosphere when I came upon this post.  The intentionally-funny piece is entitled "Karl Barth Madness" and lists ten reasons why Brian has no interest in reading Karl Barth.  Since the writing of this piece in 2010, he has posted a number of blogs about Barth, but that is beside the point.  I thought Brian's list was clever, at times very accurate, and (perhaps because of it's accuracy) somewhat insulting all at the same time.  And, as can be expected, a debate ensued on his blog.  I am not really a "get into debates on blogs" kind of guy, and I was over two years late to the game, so I did not get involved.  But I did ask Brian's permission to mention him and his post and to interact with it.  He very graciously said ok.

The title of this present piece gains it's title from his sixth reason for not reading Barth:

(6) There seem to be more people reading Barth than Scripture these days so I think I’ll buck the trend. It is very theologically hipster to read Barth. We’ll see where that is in ten years. [emphasis mine] 
So there it is.  Without ever meeting me, and two years before we somehow inadvertently became Facebook friends, Brian LePort called me a hipster.

Brian is also painfully correct.  He states as another reason not to read Barth that it is unnecessary for him to since he has no intentions of ever attending Princeton.  Well, in my experience, these two observation collapse into a painful truth.  For a few years my wife and I attended University Presbyterian Church in Seattle under the preaching of Earl F. Palmer.  Earl was an excellent preacher and theologian and an out-and-out, no-apologies Barthian.  The first sermon of his we ever heard included him busting out his old, tattered copy of Dogmatics in Outline and reading from it for five minutes or so.  And Earl made Barth fun.  Barth was relevant, reminding us to read our Bibles to see Jesus and to see everything as centered on Jesus.  He also was heavily involved in Princeton Seminary, having gone there himself, and UPC as a congregation probably shipped half a dozen seminarians off to Princeton single-handedly each year.  (I was almost one of them!)  But while attending UPC, I also got to know for a brief time a young man who embodied Brian's reason #6 sickeningly well.  This young man went to Princeton, was brilliant, loved Barth and Moltmann, and essentially disdained everything and everyone else (he was one of those, "all Christians are suckers but me" kinda guys).  In remarkably un-Barthian fashion, he considered the Bible there to be questioned, doubted, picked at, and of little value beyond being a source document for Jesus.  He was Barthianism gone sour.  He was also, absolutely, a theological hipster.

Not on to my other point...

In the comments section of the blog, Brian writes,
"Yes, it is a bummer he didn’t get to discuss the Holy Spirit. I may have been interested in at least reading that point."
Well, I am sure that by now Brian realizes that Barth wrote a LOT about the Holy Spirit, even if he passed away before completing his massive Church Dogmatics.  And, interestingly enough, it was precisely Barth's pneumatology that set me on this wild Barthian-Pentecostal goose chase.  I had always loved Barth and considered myself Reformed, but God seemed to be irresistibly (darn Calvinists!) drawing me back to my old AG congregation.  My spiritual life has included what could be called "Pentecostal experience," but I was having a very hard time being Pentecostal theologically.  And it was Barth's pneumatology, particularly in his Gottingen Dogmatics, that gave me a theology that both critiqued and (probably contrary to what Barth would have wanted) affirmed my Pentecostal experience.  For Barth, the Spirit's role in revelation is what he calls "the Subjective Reality of Revelation."  And since, for Barth, salvation does not happen over here in me but over there in Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to illumine within the believer the reality of his or her salvation which is true in Christ.  And the work of the Spirit is a work that creates real response.  Barth even goes so far as to admit that it could be called experience.  I knew I had found something.  This was something that could both critique some of the bogus-ness I and other Pentecostals have been guilty of in understanding our experiences of the Spirit and could also affirm and even help clarify what exactly the Spirit is doing in and with us when he fills us, gives us gifts, and makes us aware of the reality and otherness of the God who loves us.

I have been on that road every since.  If it makes me a hipster, I guess I need to trade in my wire-frame glasses for some nice, thick black plastic frames that I see on the face of so many (*ahem!*) people, particularly all these Seattle hipsters...


  1. I'm happy to see that some of my older jabs at Barthian studies being vogue have proven to be somewhat accurate. I have interacted very little with Barth over the years. Maybe someday, though I admit, Barthians still scare me away from him!

  2. It is certainly "hipster" to be opposed to Barth (at least in many circles I've been in the past). So maybe its just the word of one "hipster" to another. ;-) For me, my journey with Barth began by reading his Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (a WONDERFUL volume, IMHO). This was followed by numerous other small works (Dogmatics in Outline, God Here and Now, The Humanity of God, Prayer, and The Theology of John Calvin), prior to ever even cracking open his Church Dogmatics. I must admit that at every turn I felt both smitten and repelled. I was challenged to think through things I had simplified (though perhaps Barth just has a way of complicating the simple???) and allow for tension and a sense of ambiguity where the text of Scripture seems comfortable with such. As a Pentecostal and as a theologian and Biblical scholar (or sorts), I was taken by his approach to Scripture and have felt spiritually enlivened. It has advanced my prayer life and meditation of Scripture immensely. I can honestly say that Barth has challenged me as a disciple to actually deepen my discipleship practices in ways no other writer or tradition had done.

    1. I can relate to that, Rick. Barth is a challenge not just intellectually. I also made the most early progress by reading his shorter works. My first foray into Barth was seven years ago. It took me a year to get through CD I/1 I think, and I am not sure I understood it when I was done anyway!! I think it is hipster to call other people hipster, anyway, so we're all guilty.

      That reminds me. Do you know why the hipster burned his mouth? Because he ate his soup before it was cool...