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Posts Tagged ‘Dogmatics in Outline’

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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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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