Karl Barth?

I've chosen to write my theological college book review on Karl Bath 'The Kingdom of God'. If anyone has any tips for this or recommended reads which will help me to understand this book, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

This is stimulating stuff from Wikipedia. I know nothing about Karl Barth so far but perhaps I'll like him which sounds facile, I know, but it can help, I've got to spend the next month getting to know him, only well enough for 1500 book review though.


One of the most influential and controversial features of Barth's Dogmatics was his doctrine of election (Church Dogmatics II/2). One thread of the Reformed tradition, following one interpretation of its most influential thinker, John Calvin, had long argued for so-called double predestination: that God chose some humans for salvation through Christ and others for damnation. These groups were sometimes called the "elect" and "reprobate." This choice (or "election") was made by God and was the result of God's "absolute decree," a mysterious and fundamentally inscrutable decision which, though it was a decision of ultimate consequence for the individual human, was fundamentally inaccessible and unknowable to him or her. God chose each person to be saved or damned based on the divine will, and it was impossible to know why God chose some and not others or whether God had elected or rejected oneself.

Barth's doctrine of election involves a firm rejection of the notion of an absolute decree. In keeping with his Christo-centric methodology, Barth argues that to ascribe the salvation or damnation of humanity to an abstract absolute decree is to make some part of God more final and definitive than God's saving act in Jesus Christ. God's absolute decree, if one may speak of such a thing, is God's gracious decision to be for humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. With the earlier Reformed tradition, Barth retains the notion of double predestination but makes Jesus Himself the object of both divine election and reprobation simultaneously: Jesus embodies both God's election of humanity and God's rejection of human sin. While some regard this revision of the doctrine of election as an improvement on the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, critics have charged that Barth's view amounts to a lax universalism.

I'm quite attracted by this too which I've been wondering about lately, so much so that I'm not sure if the word 'evangelical' actually describes me anymore. 'Post-evangelical?


Some fundamentalist critics have joined liberal counterparts in referring to Barth as "neo-orthodox" because, while his theology retains most or all of the tenets of their understanding of Christianity, he is seen as rejecting the belief which is a linchpin of their theological system: biblical inerrancy. Such critics believe the written text must be considered to be historically accurate and verifiable and see Barth's view as a separation of theological truth from historical truth.Barth could respond by saying that the claim that the foundation of theology is biblical inerrancy is to use a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and that our understanding of Scripture's accuracy and worth can only properly emerge from consideration of what it means for it to be a true witness to the incarnate Word, Jesus.

Once a young student asked Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life's work and theology in just a few words. The question was posed even with gasps from the audience. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled, "Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'"

See also Centre for Karl Barth Studies

See also



DaveW said...

Personally I think I agree with Barth on Scriptural authority.

I have always rejected Biblical Inerrancy, it does not take scripture seriously enough for me (ie instead of engaging with it and being challenged inerrancy runs away from it and from your brain).

I too struggle with the label evangelical, but I blame that on the way some have redefined what it means over recent years.

This historic definition still works fine, just throw away the modernist, fundamentalist, legalist and non loving elements we see. So for me Wesleyan Evangelicalism is still a wonderful place to be - even if I need to use another term for people who have only seen the corrupted version.

Rachel said...

Thank you - much that is interesting here and articulates my own growing position. However, right I am tempted to think Barth, it hasn't prevented me from falling asleep for half an hour during my reading of his fine essays - of yiex - it's now nearly school run time again. You have read Armchair theologians guide to Barth - was it any good?

DaveW said...

All the armchair theologians books I have read so far have been good, excellent for use at Church level, not so good for academic essays.

Tim Goodbody said...

Hi Rachel,
That whole Post-Evangelical thing was kicking off when I was at theological college in the 90's. It appeals to me mostly because of the undogmatic approach to things like PSA.
In a mischevious way also I liked it because the liberal elements of the then Oxford theological spectrum certainly didn't like it up 'em (probabaly unwise use of words but there you go).

Fulcrum and New Wine have helped me to avoid a permanent labelling of myself as a Post Evangelical, but I still refer to Dave Tomlinson's eponymoua book, and also stuff like Stanley Hauerwas and Middleton and Walsh's "Truth is stranger than it used to be".

Anonymous said...

Engaging With Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques edited by Daniel Strange and David Gibson is meant to be very good and offers a range of authors dealing with different aspects of his thought, so you can pick the chapters relevant to you.

I confess I haven't read it yet though!

Rachel said...

Thanks Tim, interesting. I'll look up those books you have mentioned.

- we start PSA this Wednesday and other theories of the Atonement - and to think I reckoned we'd just get to read the Bible all day long at theological college - how wrong I was - I feel like I need to take a year off just to work my way through commentaries on the 66 books - theological college is working out to be a lot more academically challenging than I thought it would be - you vicars are seriously bright people - just hope my brain is up to it!

Anonymous - thanks - this might be just what I need.

Wim Houtman said...

Dear Rachel, as far as I'm aware the British Evangelical Alliance has consciously avoided words like "inerrancy" or "infallibility" in its Basis of Faith. Instead, in article 3, it calls the Word of God "fully trustworthy for faith and conduct". So, as far as they are concerned it seems you are more than welcome to call yourself evangelical in this respect.

Rachel said...

This is good to know, Wim, thank you.

DaveW said...

Wim is right.

Sadly there are many Evangelicals today who keep trying to enforce their own definitions of evangelicalism on the EA by adding inerrancy as well as a rejection of all understandings of atonement other than penal substitution.

The results is that many are scared away from being identified as evangelical.

Rachel said...

Yes, I keep hearing about PSA over and above all other theories - will move on to this in a module on the work of Christ - so should be interesting - I'll ask my evangelical lecturers about it.

J. R. Miller said...

I started a series in January titled, "One Year With Karl Barth"

I am reading through the CD and posting my thoughts and conclusions. I am new to Barth, but would love to have some interaction from those who are more experienced readers.

God bless!


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions