Theologian Thursday: Karl Barth (1886-1968)

 (image from here)
Karl Barth was born in Switzerland and studied theology at the University of Bern, Tübingen University, and the University of Marburg. He learned from some of the greatest liberal theologians of the time. But as he returned to Switzerland to be a minister in a small church, and studied thoroughly the Institutes of Calvin, his perspective shifted, and he became one of the most outspoken challengers of the romantic, Schleiermachian Christianity. This change was also influenced by the first World War. Many of his German teachers supported the war, but he refused to do so and ultimately rejected their teaching after seeing their personal ethics in this light.

Barth was also one of the founding members of the Confessing Church--those Christians who stood against that Nazi party and their brand of supposed Christianity. In fact, he was forced to resign from his position as a professor at the University of Bonn because he would not swear allegiance to Hitler.

One of the main ideas in Barth's theology is that Jesus is the Word of God--not the Bible. This has important implications for resisting fundamentalist bibliolotry.

Another interesting thing about Barth is that he was a reformed theologian who subscribed to Calvin's teaching, but his understanding of predestination was that God did not "elect" and "damn" certain individuals, but that as Jesus Christ became human, he became both the elect and the reprobrate, and then was raised--implying that all people essentially are saved. This is what some call "soft universalism."

What You Should Read:
  • Church Dogmatics (Just kidding. It's 13 volumes and 8,000 pages and is sitting in my office and I've hardly made a dent. But really. Seminal work of the 20th century.)
  • The Humanity of God (Short, accessible, good)
(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality:
Despite his ambivalence toward biblical inerrancy, Barth's study of Paul and his views on hierarchy lead me to believe he did not have a high view of women. Plus he had some kind of suspicious relationship with his female secretary (who apparently lived with him and his wife...?), which makes me think respecting women might not have been very important to him.
Environmental Sensibility:
Barth focuses much on the transcendence of God and God's "infinite qualitative difference" from the world. Additionally, his focus is generally on humanity's response to God and soteriology, with little interest in the arena in which this takes place, and how people might thus respond to God's creation. Plus he hated natural theology.
Heretical Tendencies:
Many consider Barth to be the father of the neo-orthodox movement, which, in a sense, brought Protestantism back from its romantic roots and refocused it on the Reformation ideals.
General Badassery:
I think anyone in the Confessing Church automatically gets a bunch of stars. And Church Dogmatics is just so crazy thorough and intense and awesome.

Lastly, a quote:
"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."