Re-Figuring Theology

The Rhetoric of Karl Barth

By Stephen H. Webb

Subjects: Theology
Series: SUNY series in Rhetoric and Theology
Paperback : 9780791405710, 214 pages, July 1991
Hardcover : 9780791405703, 214 pages, July 1991

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Table of contents



1. Reading Karl Barth


Rhetoric and Theology
Readings of Karl Barth
Barth and Expressionism
A Closer Look at the Expressionist Analogy


2. Toward a Tropology


Three Theories of Tropes
Max Black on Mataphor
Paul Ricoeur and Language
Ricoeur and Metaphor
The Tropics of Hayden White


3. Metaphor of Crisis/Crisis of Metaphor


Metaphors and Models
The Origin of Crisis
The Supporting Cast
The Indirection of Theology
The Crisis Defined?
The Crisis of History and the History of Crisis
The Crisis of Crisis


4. Magic of the Extreme


A Lesser Trope?
Nietzsche as Exaggerator
A Necessary Excess
An Other Otherness
A Church Destroyed
The Limits of Extremity


5. Web of Irony


The Varieties of Irony
The Ironology of Kierkegaard
The Irony of Theology
An Ironic God
An Unstable Corrective


6. Retreat and Reconstruction: Re-Reading Barth Today


Retreat from Rhetoric
Another Other
Toward a Reconstruction





Here is a rhetorical treatment of Karl Barth's early theology. Although scholars have long noted the rhetorical power of Barth's work, calling it volcanic and explosive, this book uses rhetoric to illuminate the peculiar nature of his prose. It displays a Barth whose prose is radically unstable and inseparable from his theological arguments.

The author connects Barth's early theology to the Expressionism of the Weimar Republic. He develops an original theory of figures of speech, relying on the philosophies of Paul Ricoeur and Hayden White, to delve more deeply into the particular configurations of Barth's writings. Nietzsche's hyperbole and Kierkegaard's irony are examined as rhetorical precedents of Barth's style. The closing chapter surveys Barth's later, realistic theology and then suggests ways in which his earlier tropes, especially the figures of excess and self-negation, can serve to enable theology to speak today.

Stephen H. Webb is Byron K. Trippet Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College.


"The status of rhetoric in relation to conceptual thought has been an important issue since the 13th century. With the advent of deconstructionism, it has become more urgent to sort out the implications of the different positions taken on this issue.

"The theology of Karl Barth is a strategic test case for exploring this issue, both because he is a central figure in twentieth century theology and because of the radicality of his challenge. The author has illuminated Barth's theology by his astute rhetorical analysis and, reciprocally, the status of rhetoric by a thorough investigation of Barth's texts. " — Mary Gerhart, Hobart & William Smith Colleges

"The approach developed in this book is deeply appropriate both to the early Barth and to the present conversation among theologians. It promises to vitalize academic theology, a field that without such recurrent infusions can become repetitive and pompous. " — David B. Greene, North Carolina State University