Archive for the ‘Church Dogmatics’ Category


In association with the Theologischer Verlag Zürich (TVZ) and Princeton Theological Seminary, Alexander Street Press is pleased to announce The Digital Karl Barth Library. This online collection will support a new generation of research into the works of one of the twentieth century’s most influential theologians.


The collection features the entire corpus of Barth’s Gesamtausgabe. Published under the TVZ imprint, this definitive edition of Barth’s works in German currently comprises 42 volumes of theological writings, lectures, letters, sermons, and interviews. As additional print volumes of the Gesamtausgabe become available, they will be added to Alexander Street’s The Digital Karl Barth Library. Also included is Barth’s magnum opus, the fourteen-volume Kirchliche Dogmatik, both in the original language and with the definitive English translation. Translations of numerous other important works by Barth are also included.

The combination of comprehensive German-language content and scholarly English translations of major works—all available in a coherent, easy-to-access online collection—make The Digital Karl Barth Library an unparalleled resource for students and scholars studying the life and thought of this modern-day “church father.”


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Find all references to suffering and tribulation in Barth’s sermons.
In Barth’s exegetical writings, identify words that occur most frequently in close proximity with the keyword λογος (logos).
Locate instances where Barth mentions Hitler in his letters.
Searching all Barth’s works, find all citations of Romans, chapter one.


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English: Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics in his ...

“The length of this document defends it well against the risk of being read.” – Winston Churchill

I think this likely could have been Barth’s daily mantra as he wrote his (unfinished fourteen part) Church Dogmatics. Or perhaps Churchill was familiar with Barth’s work. 🙂

If one writes enough, then there is a basic idea that very few (if any) will ever actually read all that was written and thus have little to accurately accuse one of (beyond obscure verbosity). Because, quite simply, just when the reader thinks they are grasping what has been said, there remains another compendium of explanations that so bury the ideas of the author that to dig through such mountains of material is to be lost in the mines or buried alive for delving too deeply. (Or so it seems in reading Barth).

So I guess I’m just going to stick with occasional mining for gems in the depths of Mount CD and convincing myself I have some understanding of what he has to say. And all the while I’ll stake my claim to having regularly panned the rivers of his “Evangelical Theology: An Introduction,” “Dogmatics in Outline,” and “God Here and Now” to give me a false sense of understanding his work. 🙂

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According to theologian Roger Olson, yes, he was. Or, rather, his doctrine of election logically leads to universalism.

Roger Olson just published an essay on his blog on this question (“Was Karl Barth a Universalist? Another Look at an Old Question“), after a year or so digging into Church Dogmatics. He says “I do not claim that this article contains anything previously undiscovered or unheard of. However, I do not know of anything in print that covers precisely the same ground (e.g., including Barth’s views regarding free will).”

Olson states that Barth was quite coy on the subject (and denied being a universalist), but that

I will argue here that Barth’s doctrine of God’s gracious election necessarily, logically requires a peculiar kind ofuniversalism. To say the things Barth said about it and then deny universalism was, or would be, a logical contradiction—something that makes any system of thought incoherent and thereby nonsensical. But I will also argue that Barth did not explicitly deny universalism. What he denied was the necessity of universal salvation—that God must save everyone.

For the nearly uninitiated, such as myself, Olson provides a great overview of Barth’s doctrine of election. I won’t even attempt an overview of Olson’s overview, I’ll leave you to read his essay. (Which is really the point of this post, to direct you there. The rest of what follows here is filler. 🙂 )

Quite frankly, I’m not in a position to comment about Barth’s views on election. I will, however, highlight some material that stood out for me and some thoughts arising from it.

1. Barth’s doctrine of election begins and ends with Christ, which Olson sees leading inevitably to universalism. I’d like to see him connect the scriptural dots, as it were, on his view, so I guess there’s another reason for me to get into Dogmatics. Having said that, it does make a great deal of sense to begin and end with Christ, and the way Barth goes about it (as explained by Olson) makes a great deal of sense viz-a-viz universal salvation. And, if I may get a little subjective here, it’s quite theologically and spiritually moving. There are, of course, some tensions or paradoxes that neither Barth nor Olson clear out of the way, but on this subject in particular I think paradox is almost a given, no matter what position one takes.

2. Barth argues that Christ is the Elect (in whom all humanity is elected), even in the double predestinarian sense of being also the one who is rejected (or takes on that death and rejection on our behalf). That sentence doesn’t quite do Barth (or Olson) justice. Let me quote Olson (who, incidentally, needs to learn about blockquotes to make a clearer distinction between his own words and Barth’s) in a couple of places I was particularly struck:

What singles [Jesus] out from the rest of the elect, and yet also, and for the first time, unites Him with them, is the fact that as elected man He is also the electing God, electing them in His own humanity. In that He (as God) wills Himself (as man), He also wills them. And so they are elect “in Him,” in and with His own election. (Emphasis mine.)

and (definitely quoting Barth):

“The rejection which all men incurred, the wrath of God under which all men lie, the death which all men must die, God in his love for men transfers from all eternity to Him in whom He loves and elects them, and whom He elects at their head and in their place.” (p. 123) [in CD II/2]

This understanding gives Jesus’ teaching that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” a whole new (or deeper) meaning: greater love has no one than God in Christ who took on damnation on behalf of his friends. (Perhaps a bit strong, but that’s where this seems to lead.)

3. Barth understood the term “salvation” on two levels:

One is what happened for all people in Jesus Christ, in his election and reprobation, in his incarnation and atoning death, and in his resurrection. It is finished—for everyone. The other is coming to know it and live in the new being of it—which is what makes one a Christian. But, for Barth, being “saved” in the first sense, objectively reconciled, forgiven, justified, is a “done deal” for all people in Jesus Christ whereas being “saved” in the second sense—something to be sought and found—corresponds to actualizing salvation in knowing, living and witnessing.

Perhaps not two understandings of salvation, rather one understanding of salvation with a subcategory of those who are aware of the salvation which is theirs (that is, Christians). Thus we have the saved (everyone?) and we have Christians as a subcategory of the saved.

This leads to this:

Barth argued that a person who fully understands his or her unworthiness for election cannot look upon anyone as rejected by God:

The believer cannot possibly confront the unbeliever with the suspicion that the latter is perhaps rejected. For he knows who has borne the merited and inevitable rejection of the godless, his own above all. How can he possibly regard others as perhaps rejected merely because he thinks he knows their unbelief and therefore their godlessness? If he does what becomes of his own faith? What of his own election? (p. 327)

Quite a wonderful insight, if you ask me, a grounded reason for not having an “us and them” view of the world.

4. I think this is also a good response to the common evangelical concern with universalism, namely, the Great Commission, the call to witness, to make disciples, to preach the Gospel. Does not the idea of universalism make the Great Commission, the notion of proclamation, of the call to make disciples sort of a moot point? If all people are saved anyway, why bother with proclamation?

The Great Commission is not nullified by a universalist doctrine. In fact, one can still speak of “converts” when holding a universalist position, but in the context of converts to the truth of the world, namely, that Jesus has saved and is saving. I see echoes here in Bonhoeffer in Ethics, at least as far as I can recall: you are saved, embrace that reality! This, it seems to me, is equally good reason to proclaim the gospel as the traditional urgency about hell and damnation, etc. The message is effectively the same. The difference is that the threat of hell is essentially erased in the Barthian (as explained by Olson) position. But why is the threat of hell a necessary part of proclamation of the Gospel (note I say the threat of hell, not hell itself, in which existence Barth appears to have believed)? It need not be (and some argue that the hell piece is not ultimately part of the Gospel proper, such as McKnight in The King Jesus Gospel).

5. Finally, I found it odd throughout this essay to hear of Barth scholars insisting on denying universalism in his thought. The impression I get is that they’ve rejected universalism already and then insisted that Barth couldn’t possibly be a universalist, because universalism is “heresy”. It seems to me they (and we) should take Barth on his own words, whether or not universalism is “heresy”, to see if what he says has the ring of truth to it. In the end, the feeling I get (again, from Olson’s representation of things) is that Barth scholars are looking for even the tiniest hint of non-universalism in Barth simply because they’re of the opinion that universalism is bad, not because Barth is clearly not a universalist. They’re trying to “save” Barth from something he doesn’t need saving from. He thought what he thought.

Those are some of my thoughts. Olson’s essay is a long (but enjoyable) one, with lots of material from Dogmatics covered, and there is much more worth commenting and reflecting on that I’ve already forgotten! (A shortcoming of reading online [no underlining] and me not taking notes as I read the article on my iPhone.)

Go, read the essay. Tell me what you think.

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Snoopy TheologySo says Marc Vandersluys (who should be blogging this here, but instead I’m reblogging a snippet with a link 😉 ).

For many, “theology” is a field of the academic world, out of the mental reach of the average person, and not really all that valuable in day-to-day life. It’s certainly true that much of what is known as theology is often written in nearly impenetrable prose. In this respect it really is “the science of God”, because people who “do” theology for a living (I’ll call them “vocational theologians”) have created specialized terminology in order to make dialogue between vocational theologians a little simpler: they could string a bunch of verbs and adjectives together when talking about God or some concept relating to God, or they could come up with a single word that encapsulates all of them. The one-word option makes communication much less cumbersome and less confusing within the field, just like the latin names of plants and animals may be a more efficient form of communication for botanists and entomologists (or for me to say “entomologist” instead of “guy or girl who studies bugs”). But to the rest of us, this also makes theology seem like the exclusive field of vocational theologians.

But here’s the thing: theology is simply “thinking about God” or “words about God”. Theology is what we do when we try to come to grips with who God is or understand what God is doing in the world, when we ask “Who is God?” or “What is God like?”. And we all do this. All of us. Even you. When you say, “Jesus loves you,” you are doing theology; when you say “God is love,” you are doing theology; when you confess that “Jesus is Lord,” you are doing theology. Even if you say “There is no God” or “God doesn’t care about the world anymore,” you are in some sense doing theology….

Marc has quite a bit more which he shares (and you should read the rest), not least of which is why we should take care to think through doing the theology we all are doing anyways. He even manages to work in a discussion of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (which I joined him in mob-pressured purchasing…okay…so I may have been more the pressure-er rather than pressure-ee ©).  Great post Marc! Keep ’em coming!

And, yes, I did just “copyright” the terms “pressure-er” and “pressure-ee”…just protecting my personal intellectual property…or as I prefer to call it my “persintelperty” ©. Look at me…I’m a creative  etymologist. 🙂

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Barth and Jesus

You’ve heard the adage: “Jesus is the reason for the season” and perhaps are familiar with Andrae Crouch’s “Jesus Is The Answer“…well…here is perhaps Karl Barth’s bumper-sticker theology (could we even say the summation of his 10,000 page unfinished Kirchliche Dogmatik).

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Faith of Jesus Christ

From a brief conversation with a fellow reader and blogger of Karl Barth (Mike Ivaska), I thought I’d post a brief discussion of Barth’s understanding of πίστις in its genitival relation to Χριστοΰ (a phrase which has produced quite a number of articles, blogs [for example, HERE and HERE] and books such as the one pictured to the left).

Barth notes that (perhaps) the most significant use of πίστις (what he refers to in the language of the ancient scholars as the “so-called genetivus mysticus”) is in reference to πίστις Ίησοΰ Χριστοΰ (as found extensively in the thoughts of Paul and John in particular). He argues that this

“denotes the state created by God’s revelation in Christ, the being of Christians, their being εν Χριστω, by which they are put in a position to achieve for their part the knowledge of God or of Christ as the Kyrios, the reality of man in which this achievement is an event.” [CD I.1:228]

This πίστις Χριστοΰ is regarded as “the divine decision made about man. Only then and on this basis does the word slip down, as it were, into the sphere of human actions…” [ibid]. Thus, Barth argues for a reading of πίστις in relation to the Christ, that is Jesus, as belonging first and foremost to the faithfulness of God prior to any “faith” on the part of humankind.

Faith, for Barth, is the act whereby we embrace the πίστις of God through the mediator, Jesus. It is in Jesus that genuine πίστις is submitted to and embraced as the gift of God to us, for us, and in us. Perhaps this is just more of a Barthian Reformed theology coming through, but for me I find this way of conceiving of πίστις in this peculiar construction (πίστις Ίησοΰ Χριστοΰ) enlightening. So I would argue (at least at a theological level) for a double sense overall to πίστις Χριστοΰ even as the individual contextual occurrences in the New Testament might give particular emphasis to one element over the other at any given point. This does not mean such readings are antithetical, but that there is a sense in which one is brought to the fore in order to point to a particular thing at a particular moment. There can be no faith in Christ apart from the faithfulness of Christ.

So what are your thoughts on the πίστις Χριστοΰ debate? Should an objective genitive be read (faith in Christ) or a subjective genitive (the faith/faithfulness of Christ)? Or is there a sense in which both are held in a tension in the manner I’m proposing (perhaps based on a facile reading of Barth on the topic)?

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Karl Barth

Karl Barth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[The following was an email reply I sent to a friend inquiring about why I read Barth and believe others should, a basic discussion of what sorts of things he wrote on, and where should someone who has never read Barth begin to read]

Basically, I determined to give Barth a read after finding that it seemed EVERYONE cited him, yet in Bible college his work was treated like anathema. 🙂  As I have read fairly widely in his works now, I’ve found great joy in his thoroughly Trinitarian theological reflection that centers in the revelation of Christ Jesus.  I find this missing in most of the theology that I read (though I’ve since discovered others who follow in that similar vein).  To some extent it seems he has basically covered most any topic one might imagine (this may be a stretch, but when you write just ONE of your Dogmatics in something like 10,000 pages you’ve likely covered a LOT of ground… 😉 ).  He has been tremendously influential upon many in wider scholarship and will be read into the foreseeable future…so his writings belong to something far more enduring than many contemporary writers.  I’ve also deeply appreciated the worshipful way he writes theology…it is doxological…and I feel overwhelmed by God as enumerated in Barth’s works…which open Scripture to me afresh.  He can certainly be heady and dry at times, but I have largely found his work to be challenging mentally and spiritually encouraging me to press deeper and love God more fully.  Further, he was noted to have dealt handily with the Liberals of Europe who ruled the universities of his day.  Much of what he writes counters the theology which he was surrounded by.

As to your second question: Barth wrote three different “Dogmatics,” but finished with his Church Dogmatics which comes in 5 volumes of 14 parts.  In these he tries to set out a full fledged church theology which finds as its center the person and work of the triune God.  However, he has written on many other topics of specific theology: prayer, preaching, Christology, theologians, commentaries, etc.  His writings were all concerned with the Church in one fashion or another.

Several books that offer a great introduction to his thought and writings are:

  • Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Eerdmans 1992, pp.219).  This is a great introduction to what is involved in doing theology and what is expected of the theologian…it is a masterful work in my opinion.
  • Dogmatics in Outline (Harper 1959, pp.160).  This slim volume is a concise intro (of sorts) to the vast work in Church Dogmatics and the task of theologizing.  It takes its structure from lectures delivered in Bonn concerning the Apostles Creed.  I have taken my congregation through this work.
  • Prayer: 50th Anniversary Edition (Westminster/John Knox 2002, pp.168).  In this book, you will find an exposition of The Lord’s Prayer as well as a number of Barth’s written prayers (which one can find other places as well), and finally several helpful essays on Barth’s contributions.

His works cover a far more wide-sweeping array, but these (I believe) are fine examples for introducing anyone to the work of Barth.

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Karl Barth

Image via Wikipedia

Reading Barth is like taking in a breath of fresh air.  One would not naturally think this should be so when reading a book with “Dogmatic” in the title (as that word has taken rather negative connotations).  Not that Barth does not create difficulty with the breathing (its quite a struggle and rather slow going working through the Latin portions).  What I found so refreshing today was the following statement: “Dogmatics must always be undertaken as an act of penitence and obedience” (CD, I.1, p.22).  I am humbled to take up the task of theology and be reminded by Barth that this task always necessarily involves “penitence”.  Any orthodox theology must recognize that in some way or another we are speaking about what we do not fully understand and may speak amiss.  Theology (“dogmatic” as well) recognizes it speaks of God…the ineffable and invisible.  While God has made Himself known in and through His Son and by His Spirit, yet we think and speak now as with distortion.  Yet by faith we make confession of what we do not fully understand and we hold to the confession of that faith in obedience…though for now we see “as through a glass darkly.”  Thank you Karl for reminding me of my need for humility in theology and confession!

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In reading Barth…one cannot help but be confronted by his notion that only God can reveal God.  For instance,

Who can reveal God except God Himself? Neither a man that has been raised up nor an idea that has come down can do it.  These are both creatures. (CD I.1 p.406)

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach. The Protestant...

Image via Wikipedia

Barth moves from this “creatureliness” of the “idea” and “man” to the “creatureliness” of Christ who yet must be also fully God in order to actually reveal God Himself.   This is certainly not the only place where Barth argues for the necessity of God revealing God (and he follows Calvin and Luther in this).  But my question is simply what one is to make of all of this in our modern world that believes God is revealed all about us and is to be found in every culture and religion?  Certainly things have not changed so much since Barth’s day…

Luther actually postulated what he termed “deus absconditus“, that is, “the Hidden God” (altering the term from how Aquinas before him had used it) who is not open to philosophical perceptions and vague religious inclinations, but remains hidden apart from special revelation provided by God Himself.  This is what Barth speaks of.

I guess what I’m really wondering is…if we’ve perhaps lost a sense of the deus absconditus in our contemporary Church setting and if so how do we recapture this in order to recapture the glory that belongs rightly only to the One who is THE Glory and Image of the Father…He who alone makes God known?  Is our “god” too accessible by creaturely perceptions and intuitions or does our God remain yet hidden and require the revelation of Himself apart from which we can know nothing truly of Him (though we are still counted guilty of our transgressions against Him)?

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I was doing some further reading in Barth for a paper I’m writing on Tom Wright (makes perfect sense doesn’t it???) and happened upon this gem that was related to the topic I was researching in a round-about-manner.  I’m researching Wright’s view of justification and the relation to the “cry of the Spirit” (Rom.8:15; Gal.4:6) and how this works out into a fuller pneumatological doctrine of justification.   I’m working on this project because it seems that too often the Spirit has been relegated to a second-tier role (at best) in justification, but Wright suggests this should be otherwise and I believe he suggests this correctly and pursue this idea further (hopefully beneficially).  Anyways here the quote:

It is not a twofold but a single fact that both Jesus Christ with His prayer and also the Holy Spirit with ‘unutterable groanings’ is our Mediator and Intercessor. This can and must be said both of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, and in both cases it concerns the one event of laying a foundation for prayer, i.e. for the cry, Abba, Father. It is He—Jesus Christ through the Spirit, the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus Christ—who makes good that which we of ourselves cannot make good, who brings our prayer before God and therefore makes it possible as prayer, and who in so doing makes it necessary for us. For Jesus Christ is in us through His Spirit, so that for His sake, praying after Him as the one who leads us in prayer, we for our part may and must pray, calling upon God as our Father. And the Spirit who frees us for this and incites us to the power in which we are with Him the children of God and are addressed as such, so that irrespective of what we ourselves can offer and perform we can call God our Father and go to Him with our requests. (CD III.4.pg.94)

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