Dissertation Dispatch: 2019-07-05

I got my dissertation proposal approved in the Spring of 2018. Working title: “Scriptural but Not Religious: Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a Biblical Critique of Religion.”

Barth + Bonhoeffer + Bible + Religion. “Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Bible” is the gap/niche. But that would be too much to tackle comprehensively in a dissertation. So “religion” is designed to be the delimiter—specifically, Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological critiques of religion.

Dissertation-wise, I didn’t make as much progress as I would’ve liked to during the 2018–19 school year. However, I became a father and I passed all my courses. So I’m counting that as a win.

Nevertheless, I did make some progress taking a look at what Barth and Bonhoeffer had to say about Genesis 1–3. Their interpretations of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in Genesis 2–3 proved especially interesting.

Where does that leave me now? Well, my “Genesis 1–3” chapter has ballooned so much that I’m wondering if it might be best to make Genesis 1–3 the centerpiece/focus of the dissertation. I think that the necessarily broad net that I cast in my proposal (Genesis, Prophets, Gospels, Romans) was too broad.

The way I see it, a “Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the Bible” project is primarily limited by the passages that Bonhoeffer wrote on at length. It would’ve been wonderful had the book of Romans played a key role in both theologians’ work, but Bonhoeffer didn’t engage with Romans all that much.

Not to discount Dietrich’s other biblical material, but Genesis 1–3, Psalms, and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) are the top three passages he did write on at length.

I’ll confess that I’m not entirely sure what to do with Psalms at this point, but handling at least both Genesis 1–3 and Matthew 5–7 is one of my main goals. I’m currently exploring Bonhoeffer’s discussion of Pharisees in Ethics as a possible organic connection between the two passages.

Another possibility, if I double-down on the theological critique of religion as a focus, is to restructure the project. Instead of each chapter being devoted to a passage of Scripture, I could have a chapter on (1) how Barth used the Bible to critique religion, (2) how Bonhoeffer used the Bible to critique religion, (3) similarities/differences between the two, and (4) how I would use the Bible to critique religion, building on B&B’s work.

So, as you can tell, two years in, and it feels like several things are still up in the air! Thankfully, there’s plenty to think and write about when it comes to using the Bible to help explain the Barth-Bonhoeffer relationship!

Other things:

  • I’m loving Logos Bible Software. I’ve got all of Bonhoeffer’s works in both English and German, as well as Barth’s Church Dogmatics and several of his other writings in English.
  • I really wish that (1) Barth’s Gesamtausgabe were finished, (2) translated into a critical English edition, and (3) available on Logos.
  • I still need to get better at German.
  • I’m working on a paper on Barth’s handling of Romans 10 in Der Römerbrief, for the 2019 Barth Graduate Student Colloquium at Princeton in August.

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