I first heard about a theologian named Karl Barth when, having been a Christian for just more than a year, I was a freshman at the University of Virginia. I dumped a class on Chaucer and added something called ‘Elements of Christian Thought’ taught by David Bentley Hart. DBH and, through him, KB changed my life just as profoundly as Woodlake UMC had in the time leading up to college.
For the uninitiated, Karl Barth is inarguably the most consequential theologian of the 2oth century- at least the 20th century. His theology, starting with his commentary on Romans, declared NEIN to the modern liberal theolgy in which he’d been schooled and in which most Protestant denominations today still exist. He synthethized Luther and Calvin in a way that bypassed the evangelical fundamentalism of his day and ours. He resisted Nazism not through political means but through insistence on Jesus Christ as Lord and as the One Word which God speaks. All the wihle, his personal life personified his insistence on the primacy of grace over law.
Barth reframed sanctifcation as ‘vocation’ in a way, I believe, that allows those in the Wesleyan tradition to reclaim their place in the Protestant family.
I think you’ll enjoy the conversation I had with Mark Galli about KB. Mark is the Editor of Christianity Today, the most read Christian magazine. Also an author, Mark recently wrote an introdcutory biography about Karl Barth for evangelicals. You should know, evangelicals have always cast a suspicious eye towards Barth, who was neither a biblical literlalist nor an unabashed subscriber to a penal substitionary understanding of the atonement. Barth’s marriage (you’ll hear in the podcast) was but another reason to dismiss him. Still, Barth has exercised enornous influence over pastors and theologians of recent decades so, by default, he’s influenced congregations as well.
Barth’s massive work is the long form of, a pupil, Stanley Hauerwas’ maxim:
Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bullshit.
Check out Mark’s Author Page.
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