Playful, Glad, and Free
Karl Barth and a Theology of Popular Culture
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers
Series: Emerging Scholars
Title Page, Copyright
A brief holiday memory: As a kid, my favorite Christmas movie for many years was Scrooged. I remember recording it on a timeworn VHS tape and watching it time after time. The scene that sticks with me most is when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Bill Murray’s character to the realization that his fondest childhood memories were actually memories of things that happened to kids...
In the fifth episode of Deadwood’s first season, the Reverend Smith is called upon to eulogize Wild Bill Hickok just as the man responsible for his murder is acquitted and released to ride freely from the camp.
Mr. Hickok will lie beside two brothers. One he likely killed, the other he killed for certain and he’s been killed now in turn. So much blood. And on the battlefields of the...
Part I. Karl Barth’s Theology of Culture
1. Geistproblem and Kulturproblem: Barth’s Response to Schleiermacher
Any project that makes use of Karl Barth for the purpose of linking together what are arguably his two biggest fears—a theology of the Spirit and a theology of culture—must first account for how this will be accomplished without doing violence to Barth’s theology. Indeed, Barth was apprehensive about the consequences of placing pneumatology and theology of culture in close, mutual...
2. “Serious” Questions about “True Words” in Culture: Barth’s Approach to Culture in CD IV/3
The central argument of the next two chapters is that Barth has two distinct approaches to culture and that there is a disconnect between them—between what he is willing to acknowledge in theory and what he is willing to put into practice. The first approach is explicated in CD IV/3 §69 (what I will call the “true words approach”), the other implied in his analyses of cultural forms...
3. Re-Creation and Recreation: Barth’s Eschatological Perspective on Culture
The difficulties posed by the application of Barth’s “true words approach” are, I have argued, due to misunderstanding the subject matter of §69 as one concerned with a theology of culture rather than a theology of the Word. The result is a theological approach to culture that, in practical application, would seek to mine culture for instances of “true words,” but Barth points to...
4. Encounter in Freedom, Unity in Play: Barth’s Hermeneutic of Culture
Having traced the contours of Barth’s eschatological conception of culture, this chapter turns to Barth’s treatment of particular artists in the Church Dogmatics in order to articulate the procedure or “hermeneutic of culture” he applies, which will be shown to more closely parallel his attitudes toward the use of philosophy in scriptural interpretation than his theoretical writings on “true words” in...
Part II. Toward a Barthian Theology of Popular Culture
5. Affirmation or Abomination: Barth and Popular Entertainment
Having relocated Barth’s theology of culture in his pneumatological eschatology, this chapter will demonstrate that there is room in Barth’s theology for an appreciation of popular culture through his conception of relaxation as the necessary limit of all human work as this relates to his eschatological understanding of play and release. Barth’s discussion of “honest work,” which...
6. Summoned to Play Properly: Honest Work and the Theologian of Popular Culture
From the Barthian perspective outlined above, popular entertainment serves an important theological function—not as a source of divine revelation or an opportunity for encounter with the unconditioned, but as a form of that restorative recreation without which work becomes inhuman. Barth’s value for a theology of popular culture lies in part in his effort to ensure that the...
7. “(Titles Are Hard)”: Honest Work and the Task of Popular Entertainment
This chapter will be structured much like the previous chapter as we turn to an examination of popular entertainment (specifically television) in relation to Barth’s five criteria for human work.1 Because popular entertainment’s task has been defined in relation to the concept of limitation, we will begin with this final criterion (in some sense using this section to introduce topics that will...