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Karl Barth, who lived from 1886–1968, was perhaps the most influential theologian of the 20th century. Church Dogmatics, Barth’s monumental life-work that consists of more than 6 million words, was written over the span of 35 years. In it, Barth covers in depth the great doctrines of the Word of God, God, Creation and Reconciliation. He made it his task “to take all that has been said before and to think it through once more and freshly to articulate it anew as a theology of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.” Two characteristics that define Barth’s theology are his emphasis on the person of Christ (Barth “works from Christ outward”) and his insistence that ethics and theology cannot be separated. Barth taught that “theology is ethics,” since knowing God entails doing his will.

Barth’s theology was shaped by his experience of living and teaching in Germany during the rise of Nazism. By 1934, Barth had become a leader in the Confessing Church movement, which stood in courageous opposition to Nazism at a time when the German Protestant church had largely endorsed National Socialism. This stand cost him his professorship at Bonn University and he was forced to flee the country in 1935.

Barth has been called neo-orthodox, evangelical, and Reformed. Indeed, his views developed remarkably over his lifetime as he moved from a liberal position to one of dialectical theology (theology founded on paradoxes or tensions). Later in life, Barth abandoned the views of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Rudolf Bultmann, and the liberal tradition. He argued that God was not made in man’s image but is instead “Wholly Other.”

Barth is probably best described as “ecumenical” since his work is read by Protestants and Roman Catholics, mainstream and evangelicals. Indeed, Barth was described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas, and his work continues to be a major influence on students, scholars and preachers today.

Author Bios

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

Karl Barth (May 10, 1886–December 10, 1968) pronounced “Bart,” was a twentieth-century Swiss theologian in the Reformed tradition. A vigorous opponent of theological liberalism and modernism, he is sometimes called “the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy.”

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Thomas F. Torrance

Thomas F. Torrance

Thomas F. Torrance (August 30,1913–December 2, 2007) was a Protestant Christian theologian and professor of Christian dogmatics for 27 years at the University of Edinburgh. Torrance was influential in the dialogue between science and theology.

He began studying in Edinburgh in 1931, focusing on classics and philosophy. At that time his own realist views of philosophy, theology, and morality started to develop, and they continued to do so as he moved to the study of theology at the Faculty of Divinity in 1934. From 1939 to 1940 Torrance studied at Oriel College, Oxford. He was ordained as minister on March 20, 1940.

He has authored several works, including Divine and Contingent OrderGround and Grammar of Theology, and The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons. Besides writing many books and articles, Torrance also translated several hundred theological writings into English from other languages, including the thirteen-volume, six-million-word Church Dogmatics of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (co-edited with G.W. Bromiley).

 

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