Exploring COVID-19 Through the Lens of Karl Barth

ThM candidate Reese Grosfeld delves into the meaning of freedom
News Reese Grosfeld

Reese Grosfeld’s path to seminary began in early 2017 when he, in his senior year at Fordham University, decided to pursue his love for theology by applying to graduate school. After earning his MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Grosfeld decided to continue his graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Currently a ThM student, one of Grosfeld’s interests is the way in which theology relates to the political realm, and how we understand church and state relations.

He has explored the politics of COVID-19 with an examination of pandemic restrictions and religious freedom in a paper he recently presented, “Reading Karl Barth in the COVID-19 Era: What Even Is Freedom?" Grosfeld says the idea stemmed from the story of Sean Feucht, a Christian activist and volunteer worship leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California, who ran for election to the U.S. House of Representatives last year to represent California's 3rd Congressional District. Feucht made news speaking out against state COVID-19 restrictions against religious gatherings and began hosting “Let Us Worship” outdoor revivals across the country in defiance of those restrictions.

“We’re all trying to figure out what freedom is in America today, especially in light of the pandemic,” Grosfeld says. “I wanted to explore the way we talk about freedom, religious liberty, and the absence of limits amongst some Christians.”

He included one of his favorite theologians in the paper, Karl Barth, known by some scholars as the “theologian of freedom” because Barth comes from a tradition in which “the meaning of freedom is one that factors in community.”

“I want to reconsider some things we’ve assumed about freedom. Freedom is not just an absence of limits; it is also about belonging and the ability to serve others,” Grosfeld says. “There’s a distinction between freedom to and freedom for. It’s not just that we’re free to do things — we are also free for things, to promise neighborly love for others, and that includes protecting people from COVID-19.”

Quoting from one of Barth’s small lectures, Gift of Freedom, in which Barth says “private Christianity is not Christianity at all; private theology is not theology at all,” Grosfeld notes that Barth’s work helped him figure out “how to understand freedom and add to the conversation about what it means for religious communities.”

Looking to the future, Grosfeld has a passion for teaching and wants to become a professor. He credits his first theological professor Victor Austin, an Episcopal priest at Fordham University, with teaching him about what theology is, specifically faith seeking understanding.

“He encouraged me to go down this path and to be unafraid to ask questions,” Grosfeld says. “I want to teach future pastors and theologians and inspire them the way my teachers have inspired me.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Chaplain at the Hill School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Khristi Adams, Class of 2008

“At Princeton, we had precept groups—we’d engage text and debate. That gave me confidence to have those conversations anywhere.”