Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. He is known for his work on the Epistle to the Romans and his Magnus Opus titled Church Dogmatics. However, his work titled Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, continues to make an impact in the world of theology. The book is different than his other works as it is a series of lectures that he gave throughout the United States. Barth is pretty up front in regards to the work and calls it an introduction to everything he set out to learn in the theological field.
Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology
The book is broken up into four section with the first being the place of theology. Barth seeks to establish the importance of theology among the sciences. He describes that theology has at it center, the Word, and everything rises and falls from there. Scripture is the center of theology, and any theological response that goes beyond the Scriptures in meaningless. It is only through the Holy Spirit that the Queen of Sciences can be properly studied.
The next section is in regard to theological existence. Right away Bart has a warning for the theologian. He states that one should not be astonished in regard to theology, but at the same time should be afraid when the theologian finds himself no longer astonished. It is really a thought-provoking statement that lays the foundation for the rest of the section. The study of theology is a great commitment between man and God. It is a commitment that one must understand because it ill consume your life. Though this sounds negative, Barth is quick to say that this is actually a cause of freedom. The theologian is freed because he knows what he is called to do and is claimed for a higher purpose.
The threat to theology is he next section that Barth confronts. This is an interesting section as Barth warns the theologian of things that will eventually weigh on the person. First he discussed solitude, and states that the theologians will feel isolated from the world and from within the church. This is because the work is done on one’s own and not within a group like in a traditional work environment. His words on doubt, the next threat, are enlightening. The first doubt, the doubt of questions, results from the very work one is involved in. It is the search for truth in theology and must be endured. The second doubt, Barth calls the doubt of embarrassment. This questions scripture, God’s presence, and even the very action of God. Barth gives hope and advice to one experiencing these, since they will happen, to endure.
This work concludes the fourth section with chapters on prayer, study, service, and love and calls them theological work. The theologian is advised to pray from the beginning to end of the work and to study. Barth says that prayer without study would be an empty pursuit. These two are needed so the theologian can do service in working with scripture. Lastly Barth discusses love. The love of God is what will sustain the theologian in theological pursuits.
Analysis Karl Barth’s Book
When one surveys leading theologians about this work by Karl Barth there are mixed reviews. Some like Cornelius Van Til call Barth an enemy while others such as Bruce McCormick try to defend Barth from misunderstandings. David Cogdon also makes the case that the theology of mission set forth by Barth is not as problematic as some may think. There is much within the work that is good and worthy of consideration. For example, the last section discussing theological work is something that everyone should consider. However, there are some things to critique in this work by Karl Barth.
In chapter two Barth describes theology as having to renounce apologetics. Though I understand why he said this it is misguided, nonetheless. Apologetics is in the service of theology and nit its enemy. It helps the theologian think through arguments and to dive deeper into scripture. Barth’s thoughts on the solitude that the theologian will feel may be overblown. Especially when he states that there is no one around to assist if questions arise. That would be the fault of the theologian. Though the work of he theologian in personal, it does not need to be isolated. In my experience there are many who are willing to listen and discuss a thought. Barth, in discussing the history of scripture, states that the apostles lacked interest in everything Christ did apart from reconciling man to himself. Though that is no doubt the primary focus, there is much in the New Testament about Christian living and service. This is an oversimplification of the Christian life. It is surely important, but to say they had no interest is wrong.
Barth, Karl. Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. Translated by Grover Foley. First American edition. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.
Guretzki, David. “Karl Barth and the Making of Evangelical Theology, Clifford B. Anderson and Bruce L. McCormack (Eds.), Eerdmans, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-8028-7235-7), 237 Pp., Pb $34.” Reviews in Religion and Theology 22, no. 4 (2015): 307–10.
Webb, Stephen H. “Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology – Edited by Sung Wook Chung.” Reviews in Religion and Theology 15, no. 2 (2008): 207–9.
. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. Grover Foley, First American edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), v.
. Ibid, vi
. Barth, Evangelical Theology, 16.
. Ibid., 51.
. Ibid., 63.
. Ibid., 85.
. Ibid., 86.
. Ibid., 109.
. Ibid., 124.
. Ibid., 145.
. Ibid., 171.
. Stephen H. Webb, “Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology – Edited by Sung Wook Chung,” Reviews in Religion and Theology 15, no. 2 (2008).
. David Guretzki, “Karl Barth and the Making of Evangelical Theology, Clifford B. Anderson and Bruce L. McCormack (Eds.), Eerdmans, 2015 (ISBN 978-0-8028-7235-7), 237 Pp., Pb $34,” Reviews in Religion and Theology 22, no. 4 (2015).
. Barth, Evangelical Theology, 15.
. Ibid., 110.
. Ibid., 28.