- Barth, Karl
- (1886-1968)German Protestant theologianKarl Barth, one of the most important Protestant theologians of the 20th century, was the leading proponent of Neo-Orthodoxy, a conservative, biblically oriented theology that became prominent after the collapse of liberal Protestant theology following World War I.Barth was born in Basel, Switzerland, on May 10, 1886, the son of Swiss Reformed minister and New Testament scholar Fritz Barth. Karl studied successively at the universities of Bern, Berlin, Tübingen, and Marburg, though he never completed his doctoral studies. He became a pastor in Switzerland in 1909 and married in 1913. During World War I, Barth became a critic of many of his former professors, among them some of the most outstanding exponents of liberal theology, which promoted an optimistic vision of Christianity's steady progress toward the Kingdom of God. Barth came to believe that liberal theology had sold out to modern culture and began to stress the gap between true Christianity and the world.Barth became a professor at Göttingen in 1923 and at Münster shortly thereafter. In 1930, he accepted an appointment as professor of systematic theology at the University of Bonn. During the 1930s, he opposed the rise of Hitler; he was chief author of the Barmen Declaration, which defined Christian opposition to the Nazis. Expelled from Germany in 1934, he moved to Switzerland, where in 1935 he began his long tenure at the University of Basel.Barth began attracting attention with the first edition of The Letter to the Romans (1918), which showed a fresh appreciation for the wholly-other-ness of God. He revived the approach of the medieval theologian Anselm, who believed that the basic theological task was a systematic exposition of church teachings. This led to his multivolume Church Dogmatics (1932-68), the writing of which consumed the rest of his life. The last volume was published posthumously.Barth's renewed emphasis on the Bible went beyond the traditional treatment of Scripture as the simple Word of God. The Bible was the record of God's revelation; it can become the Word of God only when it functions as the means for humans to confront the gospel. God is the Wholly other who is revealed through the Bible and who, because of his transcendence, can only be known by the revelation in Christ. The task of the church is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.In the decades following World War II, Protestant theology experienced an unprecedented flowering; the international crisis of liberal theology led many to find inspiration and direction from Barth and colleagues such as Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. In America, ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr articulated an American Neo-orthodoxy.Barth died at Basel on December 10, 1968. At the height of his fame and influence, Barth inspired a generation (even those who disagreed with him) and left behind a number of students, most notably Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Eberhard Jüngel. one of his most famous students, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, was killed by the Nazis during World War II.Further reading:■ Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics [KirchlicheDogmatik], trans. by T. H. L. Parker, W. B. Johnston, Harold Knight, and J. L. M. Haire, ed. by G. W. Bromiley and G. T. Thomson (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1936-75)■ -----, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. from the sixth German edition [Römerbrief] by Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1968)■ G. W. Bromiley, Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1979)■ Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976)■ George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.