Engaging Karl Barth

… Or the necessity thereof. For all the Barth fans out there, and this would be mostly the theologically Reformed of mind out there; these are the last two sentences from the forward of Robert McAfee Brown to Karl Barth’s Credo (Wipf & Stock 2005):

The reader has the privilege of disagreeing with Barth. He no longer has the privilege of ignoring him.

Barth is widely considered the most important Protestant theologian of the 20th century. I have recently started reading his theology, starting with Dogmatics in Outline, to get an overview of his theology. The dialectical theology he was known for becomes apparent very early while reading the Outline. It seems what he said on the last page is contradicted by what he is saying on this page; that is until you stop and think, then realize that both statements are true. The Christian faith is full of paradox, as G.K. Chesterton loved to point out, so this should come as no surprise. But it always does; to my mind anyway.

Obviously, I am reading Credo now, which is really what he said in the Outline, only written about a decade earlier. I managed to sandwich Paul Tillich (Dynamics of Faith) in between the Outline and Credo, which means I’m getting a whole lot out of Barth by reading him a second time. Tillich’s theology was a primary target for Barth, and this is becoming quite clear as I read more of Credo. The difference in thought between these two great theologians, and contemporaries, is astounding. I am starting to see why Barth is considered to be so important. Tillich’s theological system is very sound and very persuasive; it is also very unorthodox. It’s amazing to see a great mind like Barth combat liberal protestantism with what has always been considered orthodox Christian teaching. Not that there isn’t room to disagree with Barth, but as McAfee Brown points out, he cannot be ignored. Even the great (usually German) Catholic theologians of this past century dared not ignore Barth.

For now I read, but perhaps later I will have more on Barth’s theology as it is presented to me in Credo.

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1 Response to “Engaging Karl Barth”


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