Thursday, 12 August 2010

Discovering Karl Barth

Like many evangelicals, I guess, I'd be warned off Karl Barth long ago. Possibly having something to do with my adolescent theological infatuation with Martyn Lloyd Jones, who dismissed Barth as a liberal and an apologist for ecumenism (see here for a typical analysis, an article from an old edition of Evangelical Times: http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/Sword-And-Trowel/Sword-and-Trowel-Articles/The-Significance-of-Karl-Barth), both gross over simplifications, by the way!

Anyway, I've not ventured into reading Barth himself yet, the thirteen volume Church Dogmatics is just too daunting. A few years ago I read John Webster's, Karl Barth (2004), one of those short introductions, but I didn't get on that well with it to be honest. Densil Morgan has just published a new introduction, which is just that bit more accessible than Webster. His The SPCK Introduction to Karl Barth (2010), is a superb overview of the main themes of his theology, being in effect a short-hand introduction to the Church Dogmatics, interspersed with some biographical material as well.

I've been mulling over his theology of the Word of God over the past couple of days. He argues for a threefold doctrine of the Word of God: preaching or proclamation, scripture and revelation are argued to be three unified forms of the Word of God - written scripture being merely a human witness to the risen Christ. While I'm not sure I'd go that far, his stress on the dynamic Word of God is certainly something that does more justice to the interplay of Word and Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel, than many more obviously evangelical formulations. Barth writes that preaching may become the Word of God, not through anything we do, but through the sovereign action of God and his direction. I'm not saying I agree entirely, but maybe Barth was onto something here?

I've also been reading a few books on doctrine which use a Barthian perspective quite freely. Densil Morgan's A Humble God: The Basics of Christian Belief (2005) is certainly brief, but its a really useful primer. I'm also about to start reading Colin Gunton, again heavily indebted to Barth. All of this reading, of course, is part of my Anglican training which is just beginning to pick up now!

Anyway, I'm exploring Barth further and have started reading an excellent volume of essays by a group of evangelical scholars who engage with various aspects of Barth's theological position. Its Sung Wook Chung (ed.), Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences (2006), and is well worth careful consideration. I did also come across an IVP volume on Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques (2008), which might be worth a look too. There's also the new volume on Barth's influence in Britain: Densil Morgan, Barth Reception in Britain (2010), which is as much about the history of theology in twentieth century Britain as it is about Barth himself, so it'll be a must read as well. But I've enough Barth to keep me going for a while . . .

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