Happy Labor Day to my American readers. For everyone else…well, you’re special too, I think, so Happy Holiday of Some Kind to You.
Karl Barth: Epistle to the Romans - I’ve been reading this DENSE book for the past week, and boy is it a doozy. Barth originated the theological movement called “Barthianism”, or “Neo-Orthodoxy”, or the revival of existentialist theology, or what have you. He’s had a lot of labels, from the revival of Protestant theology to the rekindling of ecumencial (that is, intra-church) theological discussion.
So why haven’t I read this yet? Well, I tried. This, however, is difficult work. This isn’t a casual read, nor is it “fun”; it’s challenging on both a textual and moral level, and requires your attention.
Partly, I think Barth’s theology isn’t so much a systematic explanation as it is a corrective. A corrective, in my view, has a specific goal: to show others what is incognito, hidden in their thought, or otherwise inconspicuous that, for lack of a better way to describe it, doesn’t fit (that sentence is a pretty good example of Barth’s writing as translated into English). In Christian terms, it’s the correction of doctrine. Barth was, in the 1920s, a pastor in Germany who saw the increasing influence of liberal Christianity, which sought to recast Jesus as “exemplary man” rather than “Son of God/Messiah”. This seemed abominable to Barth (as it does to myself!), so this commentary was published in 1919 to widespread acclaim/scandal/uproar.
The central idea of Barth’s writing consists in this: God is wholly other. He is the Unknown God, a God we cannot know aside from God’s own revelation in Jesus Christ. In fact, He is so holy and we are so corrupted that our own attempts to craft a religion around Christ fall flat. To speak of Jesus is to take the position of “truth”, which means the creation of a new idol. We can follow the Law because it is written on the hearts of man, but only imperfectly. Barth’s “Christology”, so called, casts all humanity into Judgement precisely because of their imperfection, and their is NO MEANS by which they can escape that Judgement…
…except in Jesus Christ, who bridges the gap. Sound traditional, but not quite. Other religions can also exemplify this as well; Christians have the privilege of seeing what cannot be seen by the other religions – namely, our position in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. His propitiation allows us to reform the relationship with the Unknown God – there is no other means by which this can occur. God wishes to save all men, as we know from the Bible, and Christians spread this message out of pure compulsion and obedience – not to evangelize, but to cry and hearken the coming of a New Age. God demand obedience; we can become obedience in the grace of Christ.
If you haven’t noticed yet, Barth REALLY likes Jesus Christ, and the neologism ‘Christology” came into being. For Barth, theology begins and ends with Jesus and must be interpreted through that lens. However, he likes a very specific Jesus Christ, not necessarily the one of Scripture.
In fact, I’d call Barth a more extreme and constructed version of Protestantism. Unlike in, say, the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli), Barth doesn’t have much room for the humanity of Jesus Christ. In his efforts to cast God as powerful and ultimately beyond our comprehension, he inevitably removes the notion of Jesus as a person. It’s almost as if Jesus becomes a means to an end. I do not like this part – then again, Barth himself notes this isn’t a system so much as a corrective of his contemporaries. In that sense, it suceeds.
I’m only a 100 or so pages into this 550 page monstrosity, so I cut Barth some slack. Not sure whether I’d recommend it!
Demon Hunter - Do you remember when I talked about Five Finger Death Punch? Well, Demon Hunter totally did it before them. And a bunch of nu-metal bands did that before them (CCM is slow to catch up on modern trends). I just started getting back into Demon Hunter for some odd reason, but I remember listening to them when I was in high school quite a bit.
Genre-wise, they’re a mix of metalcore style riffs with guttural sounding growls, screams, and clean vocals. Sometimes there’s a guitar solo or two and a melodic death-metal ballad or two, but Demon Hunter sticks to a particular formula and runs with it. Their earlier material isn’t necessarily my cup of tea; as far as it goes, it’s a bunch of mediocre rap metal that apes a certain popular music style. It may explain why I don’t own the first album (though I’ll give it another shot at some point).
If I sound down on DH, I am not! Rather, I’m surprised that a band can offer so much evolution within a decade or so. Surely, their self-titled is quite samey, but Summer of Darkness evovles their sound to include excellent ballads and clean vocals. Their production gets super squeaky-clean over time to the point that they sound incredibly professional and focused. Many fans like The Triptych best for good reason; it’s all the best elements of the band smashed together. Storm the Gates of Hell experiments with a variety of genres, each of which completely works. It’s loaded with Ryan Clark’s strong and capable voice on both fronts (screamed and said, if you get my meaning). I always like bands that don’t go for straight screaming all the time; that gets boring. The World is a Thorn goes for the heavier side while making the integration of heavy and melodic all the more apparent as it is weaved through the fabric of the tracks. I haven’t gotten to their latest album quite yet, but I hear it’s even better.
Demon Hunter’s strength lies in their iterative nature. They stick to something they like and then experiment within its confines. What was once a bunch of music designed for “evangelistic” purposes becomes something new entirely, the logical output if nu-metal had time to evolve (rather than peter out in the early 2000s).
As well, their lyrics remains equally cryptic and quite Christian (as they’re all Christians, duh), emphasizing the “wholly other” nature of the Christian life in opposition to the world. You’ll have to read them and study them to see their meaning, though. Yes, they’re violent and all that, like most metal music, but they have metaphorical meaning that’s meant to be divined.
Give them a shot, and you might be pleasantly surprised that you like it. Or not. From my perspective, they’re a notable exception to the CCM scene as it was. They’re not as “mainstream” (not that you’d ever see such guys at Soulfest or whatever festival CCM has these days), but they’ve got the heart for it. The documentary “45 Days” they made is also worth a watch.
That’s it for Monday Update: Labor Day Edition That Has Nothing to Do With Labor Day. Who knows what we’ll see this week.