All the Barth Questions
I am incredibly grateful for David Guretzki's An Explorer's Guide to Karl Barth. As such, I can't truly answer all the Barth related questions that many individuals have when they hear his name. But I would like to provide a small taste in encouragement to pick up and read this excellent book.
Who Was He?
As the title of the second chapter in Guretzki's book, this is the first and most obvious question. So let me paint a short biography. Karl Barth was born May 10, 1886 to Johann Friedrich Barth and Anna Katharina Barth. He was born in Basel, Switzerland. He died December 10, 1968. He served as a Reformed pastor of a small village church from 1911-1921 before embarking on a series of professorships. Good material on his early preaching includes The Early Preaching of Karl Barth and A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth's WWI Sermons.
His "bombshell" work, The Epistle to the Romans, saw it's first edition published in 1919. Barth would subsequently craft a significant revision that would eventually be translated to English in 1933. I'll put off a more detailed history of Barth's publishing for a later piece recommending different books to read at each stage of Barth's theological development.
We named our child after Karl's most prolific son Markus Barth (see his Justification and Israel and the Church). Markus was particularly responsible for the later development of Karl's doctrine of baptism towards a credobaptism paradigm. But we'll have to save any lengthy conversation about Markus for his own series.
Because I want you to go buy Guretzki's book, I'm going to limit this section and the answers that are provided in An Explorer's Guide to Karl Barth. However, I do want to offer a snippet offering from the most interesting questions.
Was Barth a Liberal Theologian?
"In his earliest years, yes. Later, not so much.
Unlike his liberal forbears that saw the Bible as fundamentally an ancient text stranded in the past, Barth read Romans as an instrument by which God's very own word could be heard today, directly confronting the church in its beliefs and actions." (26-27)
Was Barth a neo-orthodox theologian?
"The best answer is, no, Barth was not neo-orthodox.
Barth himself repudiated the term as applied to himself." (27)
Did Barth really say that the Bible only "becomes" the Word of God but is not the Word of God itself?
"This is one of those common sayings that has long been attributed to Barth, usually by some of his evangelical and fundamentalist critics in North American context. The reason it continues to be repeated is because, well, Barth did say that the Bible becomes the Word of God.
However, this is one of those things repeated about Barth that can so easily be taken on its own or seriously misunderstood without going on to read further and in larger context. As early as his Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth had already insisted: 'Let us begin at once with the unavoidable insight that the Bible cannot come to be God's Word if it is not this already.'" (37-38)
I hope these questions and their answers encourage the future study of Karl Barth in theologians of all stripes. With my next post, I will delve into the fourth chapter of Guretzki's book to highlight some important terms and people in Karl Barth's life.