Monday, July 17, 2006

Karl Barth on Evangelical Theology

Over the summer I plan on reading Karl Barth's Evangelical Theology: An Introduction. Here is an interesting quote I found this morning.

[T]he theology to be introduced here is evangelical theology. The qualifying attribute “evangelical” recalls both the New Testament and at the same time the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Therefore, it may be taken as a dual affirmation: the theology to be considered here is the one which, nourished by the hidden sources of the documents of Israel’s history, first achieved unambiguous expression in the writings of the New Testament evangelists, apostles, and prophets; it is also, moreover, the theology newly discovered and accepted by the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The expression “evangelical,” however, cannot and should not be intended and understood in a confessional, that is, in a denominational and exclusive, sense. This is forbidden first of all by the elementary fact that “evangelical” refers primarily and decisively to the Bible, which is in some way respected by all confessions. Not all so-called “Protestant” theology is evangelical theology; moreover, there is also evangelical theology in the Roman Catholic and Eastern orthodox worlds, as well as in many later variations, including deteriorations, of the Reformation departure. What the word “evangelical” will objectively designate is that theology which treats of the God of the Gospel. “Evangelical” signifies the “catholic,” ecumenical (not to say “conciliar”) continuity and unity of this theology. Such theology intends to apprehend, to understand, and to speak of the God of the Gospel, in the midst of the variety of other theologies and (without any value-judgment being implied) in distinction from them. This is the God who reveals himself in the Gospel, who himself speaks to men and acts among and upon them. Wherever he becomes the object of human science, both its source and its norm, there is evangelical theology.
Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (trans. Grover Foley; Great Britain: Collins, 1963), 11-12.

Anything that makes us ponder the meaning of "evangelical" in "evangelical theology" is worth reading!

Also in the introduction (p. 9) Barth says "But many things can be meant by the word 'God'." This reminded me of NT Wright and his book NTPG who is consistent, albeit eccentric, in his use of "god" in the lower case on the grounds that the word does not have any meaning until you define it. I'm assuming that the goal of COQG (Christians Origins and the Question of God) is take readers from "god" to "God revealed in Jesus Christ".


exegetical fallacy said...

Great post, and great book! I wonder, however, if on Wright's logic we should not also speak of jesus christ, christian, along with god (instead of 'God', 'Jesus', etc.). I loved Wright's 3 vols thus far, but I was a bit thrown off here. Didn't seem that consistent. Am I missing something here?

Ben Myers said...

Good to hear that you'll be reading this, Mike! It's a marvellous little book, written at the very end of Barth's long career.

byron said...

Exegetical fallacy, I think for Wright Christ is our only access to g/God, and so it first to Jesus we need to look. In particular, I think Wright has a Deist god in his sights, since he thinks that the Enlightenment profoundly shaped popular theology.

Barth's little book was the first thing by him I read. I found it a great little intro. I was hooked from the passage you quoted.

exegetical fallacy said...


yes, but FOR Wright, isn't Christ our only access to God, and not just 'god'? I understand his point that people will define G/god in so many different ways, but I would say the same is true of c/Christ, et al.

David Williamson said...

The American edition comes with a fascinating introduction in which Barth writes with the excitement of a schoolboy of his journey through the States. His musings on the Grand Canyon, a photo-op with Martin Luther King, and Billy Graham give an illuminating portrait of a brilliant theologian and a great writer.