Described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas, the Swiss pastor and theologian, Karl Barth, continues to be a major influence on students, scholars, and preachers today. Barth’s theology found its expression mainly through his closely reasoned 14-part magnum opus, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik. Having taken over 30 years to write, the Church Dogmatics is regarded as one of the most important theological works of all time, and represents the pinnacle of Barth’s achievement as a theologian.
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[Barth] undoubtedly is one of the giants in the history of theology.
There are at least three key ideas in [Barth’s] early thought critical for his later writings. The first is the absolute transcendent sovereign God in contrast to sin-dominated mankind. Second is a dialectical theological method which poses truth as a series of paradoxes. For example, the infinite became the finite; eternity entered time; God became human. Such paradoxes create tension, in which one finds both a crisis and truth. The crisis, the third idea, involves humans. The individual discovers in the tension of the dialectic a crisis of existence, judgment, separation, belief/unbelief, acceptance/rejection of the ultimate truth of God concerning mankind as revealed in the Word.
—Biographical entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
Barth’s greatest influence was theological, with his emphasis on God’s sovereignty placing him firmly in the Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition. He differed radically from the mainstream of continental European theology, rejecting both its subjective emphasis on religious experience and the prevalent idea that Christian doctrine is subject to, or limited by, its historical origins. By reaffirming what Kierkegaard had called an ‘infinite qualitative difference’ between God and humankind, Barth rescued theology from captivity to anthropology—that is, he reasserted God’s reality and sovereignty over human knowledge or imagination.
…if you as a preacher or teacher of the Word open yourself to the theological depths of this preacher’s theologian, your hearers will begin to notice the difference.
—Arnold B. Come, San Francisco Theological Seminary, Theology Today
Karl Barth (1886–1968), a Swiss Protestant theologian and pastor, was one of the leading thinkers of twentieth-century theology, described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas. He helped to found the Confessing Church and his thinking formed the theological framework for the Barmen Declaration. He taught in Germany, where he opposed the Nazi regime. In 1935, when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, he was retired from his position at the University of Bonn and deported to Switzerland. There he continued to write and develop his theology.
Barth’s work and influence resulted in the formation of what came to be known as neo-orthodoxy. For Barth, modern theology, with its assent to science, immanent philosophy, and general culture and with its stress on feeling, was marked by indifference to the word of God and to the revelation of God in Jesus, which he thought should be the central concern of theology.