Karl Barth

Karl Barth was born May 10, 1886 in Basil, Switzerland. He is arguably the most significant Christian thinker of the twentieth century, and is lauded as a theologian who almost single-handedly ripped Protestant theology from the liberal grasp of German theologians, and helped push the church back towards a more biblical and Christological center. Although the product of 19th Century Protestant Liberalism, he rejected this path after watching most of his esteemed teachers endorse the new German Nazi Regime. During this time Barth helped to author the Barmen Declaration, which emphatically stated that the Church’s primary allegiance was to Christ, not the Nazi regime. He mailed a copy of the declaration to Hitler himself, and fled to Switzerland in 1935 because he would not swear allegiance to him. After the Second World War, Barth was one of the first who worked the reconciliation and rebuilding of churches within Germany.

His magnum opus is the daunting work, Church Dogmatics. Reading through it would require a great deal of time. Understanding it requires even more. It is praised for its emphasis on the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is always the central figure in Barth’s theology. He loved Jesus! Conservatives have criticized, however, his views on election and revelation. He does not share a definition of biblical inerrancy that most conservatives are comfortable with. Indeed, there are issues of Barth’s theology that I simply cannot follow him in. Nonetheless, Protestant theologians today who submit to the authority of Scripture and leave room for the miraculous within their theologies owe Barth a great deal of gratitude. Happy Birthday Mr. Barth.

“The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”
Karl Barth

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Church History. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Make that Dr. Barth, or even Church Father Barth! 😉 Though he did admit (thankfully, unlike many today) that his theology and theological effort, was “impure”! Sounds at least closer to our Reformers speech.

  2. I would venture to say that theologians have made an art-form of “boring ways of speaking” since his time.

  3. Adam,

    Well whatever one may say about Barth, boring isn’t one of them! But to be very honest however, Barth is/was just alot smarter than most of us! 😉

  4. To say that theologians have made boring ways of speaking an art form since Barth, is to grossly underestimate the remarkable capacity for boring speech that theologians evidenced long before Barth.

    • True, true. I suppose recent theologians feel more boring because we are often only required to read the best of the historic writers. If someone is old and boring we can put them down and read Barth. If someone is new and boring we blog about them.
      (I am, of course, using boring in the more European – or at least British – way as the definitive insult to describe all things dull, idiotic, and generally poorly-wrought. I assume this is what Barth had in mind.)

      • Well I am a Brit, and I don’t find good theology or theologians dull myself, but then I am something of a theolog. I even like many forms of Scholasticism, especially Reformed! 😉 See Willem J. Van Asselt’s book: Introduction To Reformed Scholasticism; and also Richard Muller’s book: Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology.

        Have you read either Marc?

  5. There’s a difference between the writing being dull and the ideas being dull. I’m with Fr. Robert in that good theology is never dull (at the ideas level). But, it can still be very dull in how it’s communicated. I think the latter is what Adam’s pressing on.

    I haven’t read VanAsselt’s book, but I have used Muller’s. I wouldn’t say that I’ve “read” it, since I don’t generally read dictionaries in that sense. But it is a great resource.

    • Marc,

      I am an old Muller fan, so I have read almost all of his works. I love his Reformed or Protestant Dictionary. Some years ago I read the whole, and also use it often. There is a lost Orthodox and Reformed Scholasticism, at least the search and desire!

      I would agree about the poor communication of theology. Note, this is part of the genius of people like Barth and Brunner, and even today with people like N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, etc. They light the fire of the desire of good theology, with the desire for the doctrine of God!

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