Stephen D. Wigley, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar: A Critical Engagement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2007), 178 + xiv. $144.00
Toward the end of his life, Hans Urs von Balthasar said of his multi-volume trilogy, “I wrote it all for Barth – to convert him.” Stephen Wigley’s new book can be read as an exposition of this revealing statement. Wigley’s central claim is that Balthasar’s critical engagement with Barth shaped the deep structure of his trilogy. Barth is not merely one interlocutor among others for Balthasar, but rather is the key to understanding the whole of his theology. Although this is not a particularly original or controversial thesis, the enduring significance of Barth for Balthasar’s theological project is all too often forgotten or suppressed. So Wigley’s book contributes to the ongoing appropriation of Balthasar’s legacy by keeping his conversation with Barth in the foreground.
Wigley advances his argument by first discussing Balthasar’s book on Barth, followed by an overview of Balthasar’s trilogy that highlights the presence of Barth as the key conversation partner. This method has the advantage of showcasing the breadth of Balthasar’s engagement with Barth, as opposed to many previous studies that compare the two figures on a selected topic. Unfortunately, given the vastness of Balthasar’s output, this method consistently lends itself to mere summary even when the arguments call for closer examination. Wigley repeatedly acknowledges the limitation of such summarizing, but does not take any significant steps to mitigate its effects. Nevertheless, Wigley makes some crucial claims worthy of attention. I will identify and discuss three such claims, and then offer some more general criticisms of the book.
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