The relevance of Karl Barth’s theology for the church in the post-modern world

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When we talk about the relevance or otherwise of Karl Barth’s theology for the church in the post-modern world, let us firstly  consider the historical setting and context in which he began to forge his massive corpus and the influences and formative factors that were brought to bear on its evolution. In fact, in order to be able to understand his work, his reflection on past theologians and philosophers in works such as Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century are essential sources.

Secondly we also need to consider Barth’s method and approach in developing his response to 19th century protestant theology and its successors and how his paradigm has helped and therefore may still help many theologians and interpreters of the biblical text to work out a ‘valid’ approach for ‘doing theology’ in the 21st century. He was in many regards a man ahead of his times. A natural consequence of any discussion of Barth’s method and approach will inevitably mean an exploration of some of the themes (especially the idea of mystery, the inability to tie God ‘down’)[1] common to post-modernity and post-modernism (as a philosophical system) that resonate with Barth’s famous ‘turn’. This ‘turn’ from the bankruptcy of liberal theology meant that he began and continued reframing and restating the great truths of the Christian faith both in his early and mature years. Hartwell (1964:179) has claimed that ‘Barth’s theology represents a ‘Copernican’ turn in the history of human thought about God, the universe and man, accomplishing such a complete change of the theological scene that it is not too much to say that a new theological epoch has been initiated by it’ [2].

Lastly we can perhaps advance some tentative conclusions heeding Webster’s warning that ‘If the term ‘post-modernism’ is pretty porous when used to talk of culture and philosophy, it is an absolute sponge when applied to contemporary theological work[3] Within the scope of a paper of this size it will be only possible to draw on some of the literature and the conclusions will only touch on some of the more obvious ‘stand out’ themes.

The historical setting and context

Grenz and Olson (1992:17) succinctly observed that ‘The enlightenment placed humans, not God, on centre stage in history’.[4] A striking example of this was the transformation of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 1789 into a temple to the goddess of reason during the upheaval of the French revolution.  Perhaps the fatal flaw of the 19th century theologians in their response to this unseating of the central authority of the church was, as Grenz and Olson (1992:25) maintain ‘they sought to move beyond the enlightenment, while incorporating the advances it made. More specifically, they attempted to establish a new relationship between transcendence and immanence in the wake of the shattering of the medieval balance’.  For example Kant, Barth claimed, saw the enlightenment as representing ‘man’s emergence from a self-inflicted state of minority.’ Kant therefore exhorted his fellow human beings,  ‘Have the courage to make use of your own understanding’. (1973:268). This was the watchword of the enlightenment, he believed. Barth adds his own wry comment to this to the effect that Kant ‘naively expresses the conviction that his own present time…is the best of all the ages, which have gone before’. These kinds of sentiments were worthy and understandable given the context of throwing off the shackles of centuries of superstition, obscurantism and rigid doctrinaire Christianity and enlightenment philosophers exhorted their fellow human beings to reach towards full knowledge of the planet and an understanding of the universe. In fact, it could be argued that this is a God given aspiration. Men like Francis Bacon saw this ‘search’ as discovering more of the wonders of the created order. But soon this was transformed into belief in the ultimate triumph of human progress![5] This is what post-moderns have now completely rejected- not only the grand narratives as expressing the religious truth claims of a bygone age but also very significantly the belief that progress will deliver humanity from slavery to superstition and domination by ideologies that for them have also now proved bankrupt. Cynicism rules because these kinds of metanarratives have for post-moderns been shown to be empty and fruitless. Is it not this kind of optimism in humanity to take control of its destiny that has deceived and been deceived and has engendered the ‘post-modern turn’ that has as its hallmark the suspicion mentioned above? Today we see as a reaction against all the above, an embracing of the intuitive and the ‘spiritual’, not a codified spirituality but an eclectic one.[6]

Barth’s response to this ‘critical philosophy of religion’ which cannot speak of God’s revelation, is a protest to let God be God- ‘doing theology as if nothing has happened’, as Webster put it (2000:69) without being held to the shifting moorings of philosophical currents. In a sharp exchange with Rudolph Bultmann in the late nineteen twenties Barth caustically exclaimed ‘It is….a fact that I have come to abhor profoundly the spectacle of theology constantly trying above all to adjust to the philosophy of its age, thereby neglecting its own theme’.[7] Kant, again, only saw the Bible as a useful source to be ‘used in moral questions and employed as a manual for religion’, an interesting source book with value for a given society but not as a witness to God’s revelation as Barth would have seen it (1973:286).[8] We can see that in Hegel this was taken further as, on the other hand, he ‘hoped to find God not in nature as its aloof designer, but in the ‘idea’ in the meaning that lies behind the process of the human story as a whole’ (Grenz and Olson 1992:33). Aiken (1956:72) stated that Hegel’s program constituted the first ‘thorough going attempt to view all philosophical problems and concepts, including the concept of reason itself, in essentially historical terms’. Reality is active and developing. In a sense, Hegel accepted the critique of metaphysics and attempted a reconstruction of theology. Classical theology has merits but needs reformulating. Campolo’s (1985:37) was scathing in his  critique of Hegel for perpetuating the myth of Germanic superiority- a kind of ethnic theology in which he ‘..spun out a… theory of human history that seemed to synthesise all knowledge and led many to think that the middle class of the Germanic peoples was the bearer of all that was good, true and beautiful in the world’.[9] In order to understand the depth of the crisis that engulfed Barth’s life engendering his famous repudiation of liberal theology, we need to remind ourselves of two particular occasions as he grappled firstly with the endorsement of Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy in the manifesto that was signed by many of his old professors at the outbreak of the first world war and the subsequent publication of the first edition of his Romerbrief in 1919.  Secondly, much later in 1934, in opposition to the growing stranglehold on freedom of religious expression and the blurring of distinctions between church and state, he almost single-handedly authored the now famous ‘Barmen Declaration’, which resulted in his banishment from his teaching post in Bonn and as a consequence exile in Switzerland. We need, I would suggest, to understand how much Hegelian thought and philosophy had underpinned German bourgeois culture (Campolo, 1985:44-47). The implications of this wedding of Christian Theology to the march of (to a great extent) Prussian history[10] and its reformulation by Hegel’s abstract concepts as Grenz and Olson (1992:38) observe, comes at a great price ‘Christian doctrine could be shielded from the attack of enlightenment rationalism only by moving its truth content beyond history as it is taken up and transformed into philosophy

Grenz and Olson (1992:39) suggested that while Kant ‘set forth ethics or morality as the focal point of the special religious dimension’ and that ‘Hegel moved the focus to the intellectual or speculative realm’, Friedrich Schleiermacher elevated the intuitive life with his emphasis on religion constituting the idea of dependence or feeling i.e. the inward, experiential and personalistic nature of faith. He defined this feeling as ‘a sense and taste for the infinite’ (Clements, 1993:589). ‘For Schleiermacher’ Clements adds, ‘the subject matter of theology is not directly, the divine reality itself, but always the human religious consciousness of the divine presence in which all things consist and cohere’ (1993:590). In a nutshell, as Grenz and Olson observe, his project was ‘to base theology on human experience- to show that religion is rooted in and even identical with an experience essential to humanity’ Kant based knowledge of God on practical reason; Hegel on a new speculative rationalism that detects the march of Absolute Spirit through history and lastly Schleiermacher sought to provide an alternative approach through intuition (Grenz and Olson, 1992:43). This latter project of Schleiermacher is strangely similar to the ‘ad hoc’ approach to spirituality in post-modernism. In this sense, I would suggest, Schleiermacher’s influence has percolated through to post-modernity; liberal theology in the guise of a ‘smorgasbord’ ‘do-it-yourself’ spirituality persists today. Eclecticism is one of the major tenets of post-modernists.[11] Schleiermacher would, in all probability, have not approved of this state of affairs. However, this is where his theology was inevitably going to lead. Barth felt that he would never have endorsed the ‘manifesto’. But the end result of his project was to allow for subjectivity to be the ruling maxim. But of course the greatest flaw and danger in Schleiermacher’s theology, as Barth pointed out (and this is where he parted company with him) was its incipient anthropocentrism. Barth himself said in 1946 ‘Nobody can say today whether we have really overcome his influence or whether we are still at heart children of his age’ (1973:426).

Barth’s method and approach and some of the subsequent themes common to post modernity and post-modernism as a philosophical system that resonate with Barth’s famous ‘turn’

As Webster puts it Barth now ‘reject(ed) allowing any metaphysic or philosophy to dictate the theologian’s starting point or method’ (2000:33). In the introduction to Church Dogmatics I/2 ‘The Doctrine of the Word of God’ Thomas Torrance and Geoffrey Bromiley, the editors (in words that strongly evoke Paul’s to the Corinthians in his second letter, chapter ten) suggest that ‘In theology, as in faith, we give ourselves to the obedience of Christ and let all our thinking be taken captive by him’ This is the antithesis of the speculative enlightenment.[12] This epitomises not only Barth’s turn from a captivity to enlightenment thinking and especially to those post enlightenment theologians, who, in response, took theology into liberalism, but also his method- namely to put God in His rightful place as the all knowing and self revealing subject. Barth’s theology is relevant for the Church in the post-modern world not so much because he has close affinities with the contemporary mindset of post-modernity (epitomised by an embracing of pluralism, mystery and intuition over against the modern, which liked/likes to deal in certainties, what is tangible and verifiable), but his relevance derives from the fact that in his early years and in the initial publication of his ‘Romerbrief’ as well as his mature years with the publication of his Church Dogmatics, he was willing to challenge an established view; to not just engage in what has been called ‘negative’ theology but ‘constructive’.[13] The tragedy of some parts of the church today is that they are still working from a tired paradigm when they could (and some would say should) be speaking in a fresh way, because they have been willing to question the received wisdom. If not in terms of his project and/or the motifs of his theology, post-moderns should warm to Barth as the enfant terrible who turned theology on its head as he challenged the bankruptcy of 19th century German liberal theology and its aftermath.

Hunsinger (1991:29) in commenting on the dynamic nature of Barth’s theology claims that ‘Barth thought systematically about the subject matter of theology but he did not think in terms of a system. The subject matter of theology as he understood it is richly dynamic, endlessly surprising and deeply mysterious’.[14]   Barth himself in his dogmatics affirmed that we couldn’t domesticate God.[15] Jacques Derrida, the contemporary post-modern writer/philosopher most commonly associated with a rigorous critique of what he terms Western logocentrism, along with others who have jumped on the bandwagon, emphasised the symbolic nature of language. Language is not reality but only re-presents it.[16] However, those who use language tend to equate it with reality.[17] But God is above language and is not limited to a cultural linguistic system.[18]  That is not to say that we should represent Barth’s theology in caricature as ‘some sort of regression to a premodern fideism’ (Thompson, 1994:185). There is no doubt that Anselm’s lasting influence on Barth at the beginning of the nineteen thirties, which is credited with helping him move from an overly dialectical approach after his aborted first attempt at constructing his dogmatics (Christian Dogmatics in Outline), could be construed as a retrograde step. However, to answer this criticism, his publishing of Fides Quaerens Intellectum (Faith Seeking Understanding) in 1931 was a watershed, which provided the basis for the whole constructive period of his ‘project’.[19] Theology as an enquiry should be moulded by the object into which it enquires! This is a theme that was strongly reasserted by Barth towards the end of his life in 1963 in his series of lectures entitled ‘Evangelical Theology’.[20]   This was Barth nailing his colours to the mast again but not in such a violent way as when he wrote his first ‘Romerbrief’. However, that said, by appealing directly to Patristic (Ecumenical) Trinitarian Theology, Barth was in a sense overturning ‘modern’ concepts of the Godhead- that is to say that were reductionist, anthropocentric in their locus- by returning to the essential, classical and pre-modern formulations of the faith characterised by the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition. Johnson (1997:2) however, reminds us that ‘The last thing Barth wished to do…was to repristinate a bygone orthodoxy’. Barth himself said ‘God cannot be grasped by man or attached by sequestration..’ (CD I/1:369). This raises the whole issue of foundational/non foundational theology for Johnson and it is in this context that he frames his thesis of ‘multidimensionality’ in interpreting Barth’s contribution.[21]  In § 21 ‘Freedom under the Word’ of CD I/2:724-725, chapter 3 on ‘Holy Scripture’ Barth explains how we should approach scripture.[22] He speaks here of faithful exegesis as ‘shattering and remoulding’. Here there is a kind of corollary with at least the method of Jacques Derrida, who is strikingly similar to Barth in his desire to expose ‘religion’ to the scrutiny of a rigorous critique.[23] Barth himself said “Modernity with its obtrusion of seemingly indispensable viewpoints and criteria is not the measure of all things’ (CD III/3:334).

Pursuing this theme of mystery so alien to the modern mindset, Johnson affirms ‘The interplay between the real and the problematic, which is ceaseless, assures that we will neither deny the mystery of God nor presume to reduce that mystery to our own fallible constructions’ (1997:189).[24] In other words we will never be sure of cognitive mastery in the manner of the proud and inflated ego of the ‘siècle des lumières’. A striking reminder of the confidence bordering on arrogance exemplified by that period is the famous incident when Napoleon pointed out to Laplace that in writing his huge book on the system of the world he had never once mentioned the author of the universe. Laplace replied ‘Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis’. That may well have been the case for Laplace but as Hicks (151:1998) counterclaims  “While it is impossible for finite reason to cross an infinite gulf, it is not impossible for an infinite God, who, necessarily, has infinite capabilities. The finite cannot reach the infinite; but the infinite has taken the initiative and reached out to the finite”. Hunsinger (1991:72) too echoes these sentiments in interpretation of Barth’s insistence on God as the all knowing Subject who objectifies us (not vice versa)  (cp 1Timothy 6:15,16)  ‘If God cannot be conceived on the basis of what we may know about other realities, then only one possibility remains open. Although we cannot cross over conceptually to God, God can cross over to us’. Johnson (1997:44) in contrast to what he calls ‘classical abstractions’ reducing the mystery of God says that ‘Barth reconceived God as dynamic and relational in character’. Barth saw that God could not be tied down and brought under our control. There were and are obvious limits to human language in explicating and articulating the Christian revelation of this triune God. As Webster (2000:69) has observed in the same vein in commenting on the significance of Barth’s theology for the postmodern context ‘..the future of Christian Theology ..(does not lie)..in a renewal of textuality. It is rather to say that theology derives from attention to God, and attention is directed to God by obedient listening to Holy Scripture’. This attitude of mind is anathema to the modern but may not at the same time be what a postmodern wants to hear!

We must therefore allow for the expansion of theological discourse. This is Barth’s legacy. While Barth may have remained very much as he said ‘a child of the nineteenth century’, he was prepared to challenge and overturn all that he had been taught. In this post Christian era of uncharted territory we are now entering in the West, we need a model of doing theology such as Barth’s. We have to be prepared to overturn, question, even ‘deconstruct’ and restate the ever-new Gospel of God. Dorrien (2000:42-46) sees Barth’s giving up of Schleiermacher as pivotal and shattering as he turned away from the revered and idolised teacher. He sees Barth struggling as he engages with various influences and systems. He records (2000:43) that ‘In the early nineteen twenties he did begin to voice the verdict that the fatally compromised Christianity of the manifesto (endorsing the Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy) was a logical outgrowth of Schleiermacher’s theology’. Are we today ready to challenge and also to turn on its head the blind ‘humanistic’ kind of theology that we see so prevalent in the Christian Church that panders, for example, to the whims and desires of the Christian populace expressed in fads such as the so called ‘prosperity’ gospel that makes God serve our ends. To what extent does God’s word really intersect our agendas and speak prophetically landing like ‘a bombshell in our playground’?

Dorrien (1997:230-231) argues for ‘the relevance of Barth’s theology for a post-modern theological consciousness’…..‘his religious vision was ….distinctively pluralistic and discursively open ended…Barth’s polemic against theological modernism anticipated the post-modern critique of philosophical foundationalism’. Barth was, I would suggest, in the realm of Christian Theology a ‘proto post-modern.

Didn’t he say ‘..the gospel is what it is in the divine-human person of Jesus Christ himself. And this person does not permit himself to be translated into a proposition’? (CD II/2:73).

There is no doubt that so called post-modern theologians or Christian thinkers with post-modern sympathies will find at times in Barth a helpful travelling companion.  The motif of the three forms of the Word of God, that is as it is revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, passed down as written through the Scriptural Witness, and then proclaimed through the Preaching of the Church, has proved very helpful for those who have struggled with a model of revelation/doctrine of the Scriptures that has been stifling. Much has been written recently on the mode of revelation and there have been stinging critiques of  ‘propositional revelation’. A classic example of an overturning of this kind of paradigm (the idea of plenary, inerrant verbal inspiration of the Scriptures) was, amongst many others, Bernard Ramm, famous for his text on hermeneutics “Protestant Biblical Interpretation’. In 1980 Gregory Bolich published his study on Barth and Evangelicalism, a relationship fraught with difficulties and misunderstanding, and mentions Ramm as someone who was ready to explore the substance of Barth’s work. His book ‘After Fundamentalism’ in 1983, sent shock waves throughout the evangelical camp as one of their staunchest defenders of the faith declared ‘Barth’s theology is a restatement of reformed theology written in the aftermath of the enlightenment but not capitulating to it’ (1983:14). In other words the Barthian paradigm was (for Ramm) the only valid response to the post enlightenment spiritual wasteland. Barth was not a ‘deconstructionist’ ‘avant la lettre’. However, he would have questioned the logocentrism of post enlightenment Christian fundamentalism/neo rationalism.  Webster (2000:14) encourages us all to read and reflect upon his great work in the context of doing theology for the church with the result that we ‘may find (our)selves agreeing or disagreeing with this vivid, provocative, at times infuriating but never dull pupil of the Word’.

In part III of CD I/II where Barth discusses at length the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he devotes eighty pages to what he terms “The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion”.[25] This critique by Barth is a demolition of all attempts to domesticate God. It may seem unpalatable for the church today to proclaim a judgement on humanity’s religious a priori.[26] Today the Church has lost its nerve once again as religious tolerance and diversity are celebrated in a post-modern culture. These are to a great extent western concerns and are not easily transportable to other contexts. But if we make religious aspiration the basis for divine revelation are we not in danger of going down the same dead end street that Barth refused to travel on? But we might ask ‘How dare the Christian Church proclaim the death knoll over human religious aspirations!’ Is it not and does it not represent what is noblest in humanity and who are we to pronounce such a judgement.[27] The response to enlightenment thinking is at the heart of this issue for Barth. He gives a long overview of how reformation and post reformation theologians treated and saw the place of religion. He mentions Heidan and his attempt at uniting Calvin and Descartes. Calvin would not allow, he asserts, ‘a general conception of religion’. But then Barth sarcastically remarks ‘Heidan remembers the atheists of his time and his Cartesian heart begins to flutter’. Heidan, Barth says, can show from Calvin both sides of the coin. But for Barth you cannot have ‘two bob each way’.

In the whole passage from CD I/II:284-291, Barth summarises and traces the development of Neo Protestantism characterised by what he calls ‘the movement of so called rational orthodoxy at the beginning of the 18th century’ (288). It is, for Barth, a subtle capitulation to Cartesian thinking. One cannot but help think that he may have been thinking (subliminally) of his own ‘turn’, as in an oblique reference in CD I/2:291, he remembers the consequences of opposing this current.[28]

Finally under the motif of ‘personalism’ Hunsinger characterises Barth’s famous revulsion of any ‘modern’ natural theology as a great misunderstanding. This was for Barth the gaping wound in the system; the fly in the ointment, the flaw that betrayed its inherent weakness in its ability to articulate an authentic biblical theology ‘to suppose that a personal encounter with God was somehow given within the structure of human nature itself’ (1991:40). This became Tillich’s approach in his famous expression for the divinity as the ‘ground of our being’[29] and that is now echoed in ‘religious studies’ by similar ideas such as ‘ultimate reality’, ‘the god within’. No, for Barth he is Totaliter alter- wholly other. It was to suppose that in the depths of human self-consciousness or human moral experience, God was somehow waiting to be discovered and encountered. Barth never resiled from this position. In his famous lectures in the USA in 1962 he reaffirmed that theological enquiry did not mean that it ‘would be ordered, much less even allowed, to choose for its object and theme- in place of God- human existence or faith or man’s spiritual capacity..’ (1963:8).

Some have argued that post-modernism is not so much a turn from as a hybrid form of modernity and that only theology is authentically postmodern (Ward, 2000:279). If there is some substance in this affirmation, then Barth’s response to ‘cartesian theology’ is all the more relevant. Maybe the Church has never really heard Barth on this score and what he said and still has to say should be heeded again- ‘The real catastrophe of modern protestant theology was not as it has often been represented. It was not that it retreated in face of the growing self-consciousness of modern education. It was not that it imperceptibly allowed itself to be told by philosophy and history and natural science what ‘the free investigation of the truth is’…the real catastrophe was that theology lost its object, revelation in all its uniqueness. And losing that, it lost the seed of faith with which it could remove mountains, even the mountains of modern humanistic culture’. (CD I/2:294). Webster (2000:30) records Barth’s transition from a Swiss village pastor to a theological professor as being a time of uncertainty and in his correspondence with his friend Thurneysen Barth recounts ‘Now Safenwil has been left behind and in place of it there is a very great remoteness, a strangeness, a mystery, a loneliness, a wasteland, sea, wind, waves’. Here is personified a state of uncertainty and vulnerability resulting from his willingness to question. In the world in which we live today we may find these words strangely similar to our own predicament in a post Christian environment. However, he did not stay in this frame of mind as he gave himself to his life’s work. Post-modern philosophers and philosophy may not agree with his conclusions, or method but surely for the church, Barth represents quintessentially, the necessity to reinterpret and re-express Christian theology in ways that challenge the status quo. For Barth liberal theology had become a happy bedfellow with contemporary culture and political thought with the tragic consequence that it could no longer speak prophetically to its generation. Unless we are prepared to continually reframe our theology we will fall into the same abyss.

[1]‘Modern, secularized humanity may have lost its earlier awareness of the mystery of God, that divine holiness which transcends all human experiences, aesthetic, intellectual and moral. Nevertheless, the mystery of God remains, as well as the question, ‘How do I know him?’ J. Atkinson, ‘Hidden and Revealed God’ in  New Dictionary of Theology, S. B. Ferguson & D. F. Wright (eds), (Downers Grove, IVP, 2000).

[2] See also T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth an Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, (SCM, London, 1962).

[3] J. Webster, ‘Barth, Modernity and Post-modernity’ in Karl Barth: A Future for Postmodern Theology, G. Thompson & C. Mostert (eds), (Adelaide, Australia: Australian Theological Forum, 2000), 4.

[4] ‘The reasoning subject .not divine revelation formed the beginning point for philosophy’. ‘The religion of reason replaced the focus on dogma and doctrine’. S. J. Grenz, and R. E. Olson, 20th Century Theology. God and the World in a Transitional Age, (Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: IVP, 1992)19 & 22.

[5] J. Carroll, Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture (London: Fontana, 1993).

[6] S. J. Grenz, A Primer on Post-Modernism, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996), 40-49, and M. J. Erickson, Postmodernizing the Faith, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1998), 18-20.

[7] R. Bultmann, in Karl Barth-Rudolf Bultmann Letters, 1922-1966, tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1981), 38.

Only when a theological faculty undertakes to say, or at least points out the need for saying, what the others rebus sic stantibus dare not say, or dare not say out loud, only when it keeps reminding them that a chaos, though wonderful, is not therefore a cosmos, only when it is a question mark and an exclamation point on the farthest rim of scientific possibility—or rather, in contradistinction to the philosophical faculty, beyond the farthest rim—only then is there a reason for it’. K. Barth, ‘The Word of God and the Task of the Ministry’, in The Word of God and the Word of Man, tr. Douglas Horton (Peter Smith, 1978), 194. However Hesselink cautions ‘All theological systems rely to some extent on philosophical foundations. Augustine rested on Plato, Aquinas on Aristotle, Luther on Ockham, Calvin on Scotus..’ (1983:33).

[8] Barth rebuked this kind of arrogance and utilitarian use of scripture ‘Anyone who thinks that he can approach the Bible so certain of what he wants, with such sovereignty as was characteristic of the time, will undoubtedly have to wake up one day to the fact that he cannot be content with the Bible as he used to be. Indeed, he may not be satisfied with it at all.’  K. Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, (Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1973), 116.

[9] It is a known fact of history where that worldview led- to the myth of Prussian superiority and ultimately the Third Reich and the absolutism of the Nazi war machine and its belief in the triumph of the so called Aryans!

[10] ‘..the historicising of  Christianity, its subordination to the time of this world, is its great betrayal, while the modern theologians of this historical Christianity simply perpetuate and advocate that betrayal- ‘Bismarck-religion’, Overbeck called it’. T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth an Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, (SCM, London, 1962) 42.

[11] ‘Postmoderns contend that we can no longer reasonably hold out the prospect of discovering the one, universal symbolic world that unites humanity at a level deeper than that of our apparent differences. Instead, they say, we must come to grips with the realization that we inhabit a globe consisting of “multiple realities”. Different groups of peoples construct different “stories” about the world they encounter. These different languages, in turn, facilitate different ways of experiencing life’.   S. J. Grenz, A Primer on Post-Modernism, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996), 42-43.

[12] They further elucidate this point ‘….instead of binding theology to the philosophy of one age like an Aquinas or a Schleiermacher, Barth has sought to give theology such an expression in our thought that the living truth becomes the master of our thinking and not thinking the master of the truth’ (ibid, IX).

[13] ‘To read the Romans in the light of what happened later is most revealing, for then it becomes evident that behind all the negatives and sharp distinctions there was hard at work a great new theology struggling to be born’ T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth an Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, (SCM, London, 1962) 53.

[14] ‘Barth’s particularism….committed him to a strongly revisionist use of language and to a respect for the presence of mystery….ordinary words as they are generally used are profoundly inadequate when it comes to speaking of God’ (G. Hunsinger, How to read Karl Barth, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991), 33.

[15]God is inapprehensible…in other words, the lines which we can draw to describe formally and conceptually what we mean when we say ‘God’ cannot be extended so that what is meant is really described and defined; but they continually break apart so that it is not actually described and therefore not defined. In relation to God the means of definition at our disposal are not sufficient to reassure us, when we have applied them to Him, that we have thought what must be thought and said here. The being apprehended by us in thoughts and words is always either not yet or else no longer the being of God’ (CD II/1), 187.

[16] S. Sim (ed), The Icon Critical Dictionary of Postmodern Thought, (Icon Books, Cambridge, 1998), 221-222.

[17]Barth’s view of theological truth is multidimensional…the task of theology is to comprehend this multidimensional truth in the incomprehensibility with which it presents itself…Paradoxical and dialectical modes of thought are thereby built into the very heart of Barth’s argument..Barth opts for the language of mystery…(he) proceeds from the premise that, with the advent of the truth of God, the structure of language has been ruptured at the very core’. (G. Hunsinger, How to read Karl Barth, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991), ix.

[18]A high tolerance of mystery is a hallmark of Barth’s theology- a tolerance which at once separates him from standard modern theologies and unites him with the historic faith of the ecumenical church’  G. Hunsinger, How to read Karl Barth, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991), 34.

[19] In speaking of his ridding himself of the last remnants of a philosophical  system Barth declared in 1939 that ‘The real document of this farewell is, in truth, not the much read brochure ‘Nein!’, directed against Brunner in 1934, but rather the book about the evidence for God of Anselm of Canterbury, which appeared in 1931. Among all my books I regard this one as the one written with the greatest satisfaction’. K. Barth ‘How my mind has changed in this decade’ Christian Century, September 30, 1939.

[20] Then he said, rather tongue in cheek, that God is more than a ‘façon de parler’ a manner or way of speaking ‘comparable to the symbolic role of the King of England’. In terms that evoke Anselm’s thought, Barth maintained that theology is a ‘free science’ which ‘joyfully respects the mystery of the freedom of its object and which, in turn, is again and again freed by its object from any dependence on subordinate presuppositions’  K. Barth, Evangelical Theology an Introduction, (Collins, London, 1963), 14.

[21]Whereas modernity’ Johnson claims ‘sought to attain rational certainty according to a single ‘centre’ of knowledge, post-modernity doubts whether there can be any access to a monolithically-conceived ‘centre’ and seeks instead to advance plural and contextual ways of knowing’. ‘The ‘centre’ of theology is not the Christian cultural-linguistic system itself…rather..for Barth (it) is God in dynamic relationship to humanity through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit’. W. S. Johnson, The Mystery of God, Karl Barth and the Postmodern Foundations of Theology, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1997), 4 & 185.

[22] ‘..in the process of scriptural exegesis everything will immediately depend on whether, in the literary and historical examination which underlies the presentation, we really form an accurate picture of the object mirrored in the prophetic apostolic word. That is to say it all depends on whether as interpreters we are able to allow the text to speak to us and to take account of the message and its contents….to allow the circle of these possibilities, if need be, to be newly defined and broadened and eventually shattered and re-moulded and in certain circumstances even to bring and apply to the task of faithful understanding possibilities which hitherto and in other circumstances we regarded as impossibilities’. (my emphasis)

[23] ‘..I would say that religion as such can be deconstructed and not only can but should be deconstructed, sometimes in the name of faith. For me, as for you, Kierkegaard is here a great example of some paradoxical way of contesting religious discourse in the name of a faith that cannot be simply mastered or domesticated or taught or logically understood, a faith that is paradoxical’. J. D. Caputo (ed), Deconstruction in a Nutshell, A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, (Fordham University Press, New York, 1997), 21-22.

[24] Webster questions whether Johnson is correct in affirming that Barth can be ‘companionable or formally parallel to Derrida…; but what is clear is that Johnson has to press a rather strained reading of Barth, one which tends to magnify the anti-systematic impulse in his work (focused for Johnson by the term ‘mystery’) and minimise Barth’s insistence on the presence of the Word in the church and its acts of confession of the credo’. J. Webster ‘Barth, Modernity and Postmodernity’. in Karl Barth, A Future for Postmodern Theology, G. Thompson & C. Mostert (eds), (Australian Theological Forum, Hindmarsh, 2000), 17.

[25] The word translated ‘abolition’ can have a different sense in German- sublation or exaltation.

[26] In our missiology, for example, to a great extent, certainly in cultural anthropology, we use humanity’s gropings after God or the divine as a basis for presenting Christ as the fulfilment of this ‘search’. This may be a worthwhile ‘project’ but I sense that Barth would have some reservations. Perhaps as his theology,  being so ‘eurocentric’, there is a need to recognise that it was framed in that particular context. A question that needs to be asked here is ‘Does his theology have universal application in this context’?

[27] Barth declares that ‘..in touching upon one of the most difficult historical puzzles….in the manifestations of modern Protestantism in the 19th and 20th centuries, as it developed from its 16th and 17th century root…a characteristic of its theological thinking…in its great representatives and outstanding tendencies what it has discerned and declared is not the religion of revelation but the revelation of religion’ CD I/II: 284).

[28]As two hundred years of the history of theology have consistently shown the man who rejects the proposition (that truth must be freely investigated in the field of theology) will inevitably and rightly cut a poor figure. Even if he does not really represent the church’s interest as against that development, he is a poor and dangerous representative of that interest’. (CD I/2:291).

[29] J. Tillich. Systematic Theology, Part II Being and God, (SCM Press, London, 1978), 235.

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